4 January 2017
Thursday We arrived at Lille in the late afternoon. The Hotel Mercure was just a short walk from the station, and in the heart of everything, so we had time for a quick look round before gathering for the group dinner on the first evening. Our organisers Ruth Rattenbury and Rolfe Kentish had chosen well.
The group dinner that evening was at the Restaurant Monsieur Jean – again a really short distance from the hotel. The superb meal was much enjoyed by everyone. A very good start for the trip.
Friday A coach journey to the Musée Matisse at Le Cateau, Matisse’s birthplace, where we found Vincent Barre’s dynamic sculptures plus a wonderful selection of the works of Matisse – his paper cutouts, reliefs, line drawings and paintings. Le Cateau is a small town, with a church which had an amazing number of stained glass windows – modern in design and rich in colour.
In the afternoon we visited LAM (Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art), where we were given a brief introductory talk. It was sad that the Modigliani was out on loan, but there were works by Braque, Leger, Miro, Dubuffet and Picasso in the large galleries, and there was Alexander Calder in the grounds plus an intricate sound and perspective installation. Interesting architecture, with a perforated extension wrapping around the red brick of the earlier main building.
In the evening there was torrential rain, so it was great that the hotel was in such a central position close to many good restaurants.
Saturday This was a visit to the new Louvre outpost at Lens – a building of great simplicity by the Japanese practice SANAA, which took one’s breath away. Against the cool grey sky the silvery structure seemed austere and without substance. Inside was very light, and the waxy Egyptian and Greek statuary and the heavy gilt framed ancient paintings sat strangely in this minimalist setting. Security was tight – as at most public places in France. Most of the group enjoyed a lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurant on site and then had a guided tour of the former mining town including the old miners’ cottages. The rest of us took the opportunity to race back to Lille and continue exploring.
Sunday A warm and sunny day for our visit to the Villa Cavrois, designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens. This was an absorbing visit, involving trying to notice all the stunning details of this amazing Modernist house, from door hinges to light fittings, from taps to switches. A display of these in the basement kept the photographers busy.
We went on to La Piscine, the art gallery at Roubaix. As many places in France close on Sunday we were concerned about finding a place to eat, but no worries at all: the terrace restaurant at La Piscine gave a Mediterranean feel to lunch. We sat under enormous umbrellas overlooking the small garden and enjoyed fine food and wines. The building, as its name implies, had once been a swimming pool. It is difficult to describe, and perhaps it was challenging to curate, as the building had such a strong Art Deco character: all art works were competing against the decoration. Upstairs provided a rich unusual mix of pattern books and textile samples from Coptic Egyptian up to contemporary work: it underlined the connection between Roubaix and the textile industry.
Monday A last look round lovely Lille before catching the Eurostar home. As so often on these trips we were taken to unusual destinations, and it is often the unexpected discoveries that add so much to the enjoyment. We were lucky to be in Lille on the Patrimoine weekend, when many public and private buildings open specially, which resulted in some of the group having a free guided tour of the opera house one evening – and we stumbled across a wonderful old building on our way home the same evening, where all, young and old, tubby and slender, were dancing the tango. The music filled the air with a vibrant Latin American beat, and the atmosphere was electric.