Monumental Artwork at l’Abbaye de Beaulieu

Welcome to April, which has started damp and chilly, as it often does. Welcome also to new readers and thank you for signing up. I had heard about a new, temporary art installation at the Abbaye de Beaulieu, which is a mere 10 minutes’ drive from us. What better way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon, when weeding in a biting North wind doesn’t appeal?

12th-century gem

For those of you who don’t know, the Abbaye de Beaulieu is a gem of a 12th-century Cistercian abbey, nestling in the wooded Seye Valley. It was saved from oblivion in the late 1950s/early 1960s by an art collecting couple, Geneviève Bonnefoi and Pierre Brache, who bought and restored it. They turned it into a centre of contemporary art.

Now the property of the French state, the Abbaye underwent a further restoration in 2021-22, reopening last year. It houses a selection of the Brache-Bonnefoi collection and mounts temporary exhibitions. I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in this area.

Stunning installation

The latest installation in the beautiful abbey church is a monumental structure, entitled La Croix (The Cross) by the sculptress Juliette Minchin (b. 1992). This massive sculpture, which is 28 metres (92 feet) long, corresponds to the simple cross layout of the church.

La Croix is composed of 33 panels in steel, covered in white wax, on which 363 candles are being lit in turn. We heard the guide tell someone that the artist had dipped each panel into molten wax 100 times! The idea is that the candles will eventually melt away the wax and reveal the steel structure beneath. The artist was inspired by a Sicilian workshop that made candles for religious purposes.

The structure itself represents an extended bouquet of roses, complete with stems and thorns. The blooms will appear on the part that occupies the transept. The work reflects the rosaces (rose windows) of the abbey. As Easter is approaching, I assumed this was also a reference to the Crown of Thorns.    

We decided to approach the work from the upper galleries rather than via the ground floor. The best way to see it would really be from high up in the church vault, but there are clearly practical limitations to that idea.

As you descend the staircase from the galleries, La Croix starts to come into view. You can smell the scent of burning wax. The plinth on which La Croix stands is already littered with pieces of wax that have burnt and peeled away.

I would have liked to touch the work, but that, of course, was out of bounds. I don’t think I could have restrained myself from picking away the wax, as I do from domestic candlesticks!

This is a stunning, dynamic piece of sculpture, one of the best installations I’ve seen at Beaulieu. It will be dismantled in mid-May.

In Other News

I can report that this year’s summer visitors have started to arrive: the cuckoo on 23rd March, which is the earliest we’ve heard it here, the hoopoe on Friday. Now we await the nightingales, around mid-April, and the golden orioles, towards the end of the month.

The 1st of the month is often the time for changes in France, and yesterday, 1st April, was no exception. I read on Facebook that two villages in our region have had to change their names.

Septfonds in Tarn-et-Garonne was named for its seven fountains. Unfortunately, one of them dried up definitively in last year’s drought. It has been renamed Sixfonds to reflect this.

Similarly, the village of Montcuq in the Lot has felt it expedient to alter its name to Montderrière, after being the longstanding target of ribald humour and disrespect. Thank goodness the watchful burghers have acted to protect the village’s reputation.

And on that note…I’ll wish you a happy week ahead and leave you with a shot of the pigeonnier that belongs to the abbey.

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  1. The installation looks marvellous but I’m not sure we’ll make it before it is over. First kick this bout of covid ☹️ so thank you for sharing the photos.
    I’m very envious of your early birds, I’ve yet to hear a cuckoo but the verges are full of cowslips (cuckoo) here and there are lots of orange tip butterflies flitting about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s only on for another month or so. I’m inclined to visit again. If so, I’ll share further photos. Sorry to hear you’ve got the dreaded Covid. I hope you’ll soon recover completely. We tend to think it’s gone, but it still lurks around.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You completely had me there with the change of village names!! 😂🤣 The second one was a little far-fetched, but the first one kind of made sense in a sad way!! Thank you for the laugh!!
    As for the installation, it looks absolutely wonderful – thank you for sharing that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t claim any credit (or otherwise…) for the name changes. They did the rounds on Facebook from 1st April! Glad they made you laugh.

      The installation is fabulous. Something to visit several times as it develops.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This probably my favourite building in the area and this sculpture sets it off to perfection. It’s stunning and to think it’s only there for 2 months is extraordinary. And the sculptress is barely in her 30s. What talent!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s a wonderful place, and it’s only 10 minutes from us! This sculpture is wonderful, and I plan to revisit it at different stages. It’s almost a shame that it will only be there for 2 months. Such imagination!


      • It’s only 5 minutes from us in Lardaillé! I feel honoured to be able to see it every time we come. Your lovely blog keeps us in touch the rest of the time. Thank yoy

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, so you only have to roll down the hill! I expect you know Peter, and Guy and MIchèle, who will be here soon. Thank you for the kind words about the blog. I’m pleased you enjoy it.


          • Indeed we do know them well. We were only wondering yesterday if Guy and Michèle would arrive before we go home. Fingers crossed!
            Thanks for the heads up.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’m not sure exactly when they are arriving. Marie-Jo & Claude (if you know G&M, you’ll surely know them!) said soon, but it may not be until later this month. Have a lovely Easter.


  4. That is an impressive installation. There are some very imaginative artists out there. It sounds like something you will need to revisit as time passes.
    The news about the towns sounds a bit like ” Poisson Avril ” to me, but I could be wrong. We had a gite a couple of kms out of Montcuq in 2018 and loved the area. We had planned a return in 2020 but are not returning on our almost here trip this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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