This is the Most Interesting House in the South of France
Just minutes from Cannes, the rambling Château de la Napoule stretches along a Mediterranean beach. Its brick structures, some of which date from the 11th century, had long fallen into disrepair when, for almost two decades starting in 1918, restoring the place became a passion project for a pair of unconventional Americans: Henry Clews Jr. and his wife Marie.
Today the château, which became their home, gives contemporary creative types the run of the place for much of the year and holds exhibitions, residencies, and art classes that are open to the public.
A children’s art class at Château de la Napoule.
The New York–based painter Will Cotton became acquainted with La Napouleduring a residency in the summer of 1985. “I got to draw and paint alongside more established artists I admired,” he says while sketching in his ad hoc studio, which is in a tower above Henry and Marie’s tomb.
In 2017 the couple’s descendants asked Cotton to run the new, intergenerational Henry Clews Award Master Residency. “My summer residency had been so life-changing for me that I jumped at the chance,” he says. Cotton, now 54, chose four artists at different stages of their careers for a month of intensive study as a group: relative up-and-comers Anastasiya Tarasenko and Ivy Haldeman, and established artists Hilary Harkness and David Humphrey.
Marie Clews, a founder of Château de la Napoule.
At Cotton’s direction, the artists practice figure drawing with a nude model for three hours each morning, then disperse to their studios on the property or a private spot of their own choosing.
“It’s not school-like,” Harkness says as she sets up her easel in a small garden, but she says it is intense. She squints at a tiny landscape she started days earlier. “I am here to hone my skills.”
Beyond the wall of the garden, visitors line up for guided tours of the public areas of La Napoule, which are offered daily in high season. The highlight is Henry’s studio, frozen in time.
Henry Clews’s studio at Château de la Napoule.
As guests snap selfies, a guide tells the stories of Marie’s and Henry’s lives. The couple socialized at the château and in Paris and London with the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and the last crown prince of Austria-Hungary. But La Napoule became the place for Henry, who had studied briefly with Rodin, to pursue his painting and sculpture. He died in 1937, and in 1951 Marie established a foundation, which strives, according to great-granddaughter Natasha Clews Gallaway, who runs it now, to keep La Napoule “a place for artists to reinvent themselves, as Marie and Henry did.”
Henry and Marie Clews on their wedding day.
Cotton will return to La Napoule in September with a new crop of artists, but residencies are just one-way creativity stays alive in the house. Innovators from all over the world—such as the octogenarian artist Faith Ringgold—are also invited to work independently at the château.
As Cotton says, “It’s about keeping La Napoule a place for artists and then moving that forward into future generations.”
This story appears in the Summer 2019 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW
*This article originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors