Both Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Auguste Escoffier practiced their art from an early age through to the sunset of their years. Both worked passionately at their craft with an intense joie de vivre, were innovators in their professions, gained recognition at a relatively young age and fame before their death, and both had intimate connections to the region of Nice in France.
Born in Limoges to a working-class family, Renoir received his early training as a painter while drawing and painting on fine china in a porcelain factory, and critical acclaim at the age of 33 when 6 of his paintings were hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Sadly, he developed the crippling illness of rheumatoid arthritis in his early 50’s, and finally in 1907, he moved to the warmer climate of the Cote d’Azur which was most suitable for his illness.
He purchased Les Collettes. a farm on the edge of the charming village of Cagnes-sur-Mer with an utterly magnificent view of the Mediterranean and the glorious sunshine made famous by his colleagues such as Van Gogh, Cezanne, Matisse, and Chagall. It has been said Les Collettes was to Renoir what Giverny was to Monet.
For the next 12 years, despite crippling, unbearable pain from his arthritis which relegated him to a wheelchair and necessitated his painting with a brush tied to his hand at the end of his life, Renoir practiced his art with vigor and innovation, adapting his style of painting to his failing eyesight as well as to his failing mobility. This period of Renoir’s work is characterized by looser, more fluid brushwork to dissolve outlines and detail, and hence more impressionistic and at times slightly abstract work.
Seeing the custom made wheelchair and the apparatus constructed to enable Renoir to move up and down in order to work on large canvases was very revealing. So was his continued focus on painting voluptuous women. Although Renoir mourned the death of his beloved wife, Aline Victorine Charigot, who had served as a model for his renowned Le Dejeuner des Canotiers (“Luncheon of the Boating Party”), he never lost his love of the female body. His lifelong devotion to his work rewarded him with the honor of seeing his paintings hanging alongside those of the old masters in the Louvres in 1919. He passed away shortly thereafter.
Les Collettes has been transformed into the Musée Renoir. While unfortunately it houses few of Renoir’s most famous works, it provides the backdrop for understanding the personality behind the man who produced several thousand works of art over this lifetime and whose work is beloved world-wide.
From the home of one grand master, we moved onto the village of Villeneuve-Loubet to visit the childhood home of another, Auguste Escoffier, a prolific culinary author and the founder of French haute cuisine who helped put the classic techniques and recipes of French cuisine on the world map. Escoffier’s childhood home has been transformed into the Musée National de l’Art Culinaire Auguste Escoffier, which we decided to visit after having lunch.
Just down the street was a charming restaurant, L’Auberge Fleurie, which attracted our attention with its menu du jour. We sat outside on the terasse and ordered a Salade du Marché as an entrée prior to the “menu” which offered a Fricassée de Lapin (“rabbit stew”) and a Chocolat Fondant (cake) à l’Orange. We expected simple food in this old town which seemed to still be in the 20th century, and were frankly delighted well beyond our expectations with the taste, quality and presentation of the food. We were still savoring the meal long after it was over, so we weren’t too surprised to learn at the museum later that the chef of this petit restaurant had been trained at the Ritz-Escoffier School of French Gastronomy. How à propos !
Auguste Escoffier, considered to be the first celebrity chef of the 20th century, elevated the work of a “cook” to that of a “profession” by introducing organized discipline and specific techniques to modern kitchen management. Born in 1846, Escoffier spent the first 18 years of his life in this charmingly refurbished home decorated in old Provençal style which the Fondation Escoffier now manages as the Musée National de l’Art Culinaire Auguste Escoffier. It was here in this home that his love for cooking developed as he watched his grandmother cook over the fire in the family fireplace.
The museum collection includes many handwritten recipes and letters by Escoffier, photos of him at the Savoy where he invented Peche Melba, at the Ritz in Paris, and at the Carlton in London. It houses many of Escoffier’s cooking implements, including many designed by him, as well as Escoffier’s desk and chair, menus written by him or inspired by him, menus from great chefs he taught and inspired, a room full of chocolate statues created by great chefs trained by him, and many other heirlooms of the history of French cuisine, including how Escoffier elevated it into an art and a science. A pilgrimage there is just as satisfying for a true lover of French cuisine, if not more so, as a pilgrimage to the exhibit on Julia Child at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.
Read our next posting: “Marc Chagall in Saint-Paul-de-Vence!“
Stay tuned to BonVoyageurs.com for more Countries of the World as we share our joie de vivre from around the world. Luxury escapes and city breaks to Quebec City, New York, Washington, Buenos Aires. In Europe, places like Paris France, Nice France, Provence and the Cote d’Azur (French Riviera), Tuscany and Florence in Italy, Rome, Napoli and the Amalfi Coast. In Asia, countries like China, India, Nepal and so much more!