"The river sparkled in the sun, and they had a feeling of quiet enjoyment, felt refreshed as they drank in the purer air that was not impregnated by the black smoke of factories nor by the miasma from the deposits of night soil".
Guy de Maupassant, A Country Excursion, 1881
A new contemporary art scene on the Seine
A new flagship for contemporary art has dropped anchor on the Impressionists Island in Chatou just to the west of Paris. Galerie Bessières Art Contemporain, located within a stone’s throw of the river Seine in Maison Levanneur, is taking up the torch of freedom and innovation, artistic values beautifully rendered in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. This iconic masterpiece was painted only yards away from the Levanneur house in 1880, and portrays the creative scene or "Seine" of the artists, poets, critics and patrons who contributed to the beginning of modern art.
A location with soul
The gallery will embrace the spirit of these eminent forerunners’ painterly quest through an exhibition and cultural program centered on the medium of painting in dialogue with other media. We also intend to contribute to existing itineraries on the Impressionists Island by opening our exhibition space to art enthusiasts and walkers alike. Most importantly, we will provide access to the delights of the artworks displayed. This will be done from both historical and aesthetic standpoints, as we proceed to highlight their place in French heritage. As such, we hope all art enthusiasts will enjoy our exhibitions, guidance and recommendations as they gain better insight into their tastes in art generally. At the same time, we look forward to encouraging them to explore new realms.
A contemporary gallery steeped in history
Galerie Bessières Art Contemporain will open a gallery space in a historically important house built in the 18th century. Located in the vicinity of the Fournaise Museum, Maison Levanneur has always been at the forefront of artistic creation. It already played host to the Impressionists followed by the Fauvists at the turn of the 20th century, before housing the cutting-edge research laboratory and exhibition platform of the Centre National Edition Art Image (CNEAI).
Painting today in dialogue with other media
Our exhibitions draw inspiration from the pictorial endeavors of the Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists and Fauvists, as well as from the artists who over the past twenty years explored the creative potential of diverse media at CNEAI. Our contemporary artists ceaselessly question the act of painting via several different themes, including
- The painter’s relationship with landscapes, surroundings in the open air, light, the present moment and the staying power of impressions, from outdoor work to painting in the studio
- The way in which painters redefine their role in response to photography and play with it by sometimes blurring the boundaries between the two media (as photographers can also do)
- Exploring or even challenging the second and third dimensions in a dialogue between painting and sculpture
- The boundaries between abstraction and representation in situations of contemporary synthesis
- The changes in painting brought about by scientific innovation, such as the invention of colour from tubes in the past and digital technology today
- The subject of multiples and their relation to original works
A gallery « in progress »
These manifold topics have contributed to defining our artistic choices. The artists we show, whether emerging or re-emerging, are little known in France. They are interested in these questions surrounding painting and the other forms that might come to surpass it. Our artistic program is structured around four pillars, which also define distinct spaces within Maison Levanneur:
- Personal exhibitions of established artists with strong values
- Group exhibitions that give emphasis to the fact that art is always in the making, with a focus on contemporary innovation in multiple fields including painting, drawing, photography, prints, sculpture, mixed media, and more
- Themed “event-focussed” collective exhibitions that breathe new life into certain innovative aspects of Impressionist, Neo-Impressionist, Fauvist, prints and multiples
- The showroom continuously presents chosen works of the twenty artists the gallery represents.
A gallery with a contemporary look at the past
In addition to these themed exhibitions, Galerie Bessières Art Contemporain is driven by its cultural ambition for the people of Chatou, greater Paris and beyond, as well for walkers and art lovers from France and Europe. People are our main concern; they lie at the very core of the gallery’s DNA. Its open-minded, pedagogical outlook is thus complemented by efforts to provide access to its main areas of focus and topics of interest through numerous initiatives, including
- Conferences on the history of art centered on Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Fauvism and their contemporary artistic narratives
- Conferences about the art market, investing in art and access to works
- Guided exhibition tours for adults, children, and students.
- Regular events and displays that shine light on the historical past of Maison Levanneur and the Impressionists’ Island
- Partnerships with the other certified institutions of the "Pays des Impressionnistes" label
Maison Levanneur :its history in key dates
1775 - Beginning of the construction of Maison Levanneur by Henri Léonard Jean Baptiste Bertin, the last lord of Chatou, at the heart of Chatou Island, since then renamed Impressionists’ Island.
1830 - Maison Levanneur opened a restaurant and bar to welcome walkers. Furnished rooms were rented by artists
1844 - Construction of Maison Fournaise, a stone's throw from Maison Levanneur.
1874 - "Impression-- I knew it! I was just saying to myself, if I'm impressed, there must be an impression in there..." Through this ironic comment on Monet’s Impression, Sunrise (now in Musée Marmottan in Paris) an art critic unwittingly coined the term that was henceforth used to refer to the first modern movement in painting: Impressionism.
1880 - Renoir made one of this movement’s emblematic paintings on the terrace of Maison Fournaise: Luncheon of the Boating Party (now in the Phillips Collection in Washington). This manifesto of light and outdoor painting is a group portrait of artists, poets, actresses, patrons, critics and collectors, all of whom played a role in shifting the nature of art in their times.
1900 - Derain and Vlaminck, who had just met, rented a vacant room from Père Levanneur. They set up their studio here and, as they began to explore the island and the riverbanks along the Seine, started work on their first paintings.
1905 - At the Salon d’Automne (Autumn Salon) another art critic, shocked by the wild onslaught of color produced by the young Derain, Vlaminck, Marquet and Matisse, unwittingly gave rise to the name given to the most radical movement of the time: Fauvism..
1906 - Vlaminck painted his famous work The Chatou Bridge (now in the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris).
1984 - Restoration of Maison Fournaise and opening of the Fournaise Museum (works themed around Luncheon of the Boating Party and temporary exhibitions).
1990 - Maison Fournaise rediscovered its first raison d'être with the opening of a restaurant in addition to the museum’s activities.
1997 - At the initiative of the city authorities and the Ministry of Culture, Maison Levanneur housed the Centre National Édition Art Image (CNEAI) devoted to publishing and printed media..
2001 - Creation of the "Pays des Impressionnistes" label by nine municipalities along the Seine on the western edge of greater Paris, including the Renoir Circuit through the Impressionists’ Island.
2017 - Following CNEAI’s move, the municipal authorities of Chatou granted Norma and Daniel Bessières authority to manage Maison Levanneur in recognition of their plan. They will promote artistic culture, give additional impetus to the island’s propositions for visitors, and create economic activity through a gallery for contemporary art.
2018 - Opening of Galerie Bessières Art Contemporain – Maison Levanneur