Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


Donation Granville; A Ce'zanne and a fiberglass cow

By Maggie LewisStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 4, 1980



Dijon, France

Something strange is going on in the battlements of the Palace of the Dukes of Bourgogne in Dijon. You know even before you set foot on the wide, slanting, peasant-style staircase to climb up to the rafters. You feel you are being watched. Sure enough, a pair of eyes peers out of a niche in the turret -- greenish metal ones. Over a label that says, instead of a date, "Antique eyes stare at you." Indeed.

Skip to next paragraph

Then you set foot on the first wide, crooked step and the drawings hung just above the banisters helpfully light up. You climb and peruse Delacroix and other masters, and as you pass, the lights go out. There is a guard sitting at the top of the stairs, so at least you know you haven't wandered into a haunted gallery. Or at least, you're not alonem in a haunted gallery.

The Donation Granville, in the attic of the Musee des Beaux Arts in Dijon, is not the usual museum collection. And nothing in the rest of the musee quite prepares you for it. It is rich in medieval artifacts -- aside from being housed in a 14th-century ducal palace, the museum boasts the ornately carved tombs of Jean Sans Peur (1443-1470) and Philippe le Hardi (1386-1411) -- their likenesses repose, bigger than life, on top of the tombs, attended by lions at the feet and angels at the heads -- as well as tapestries, paintings, and furniture up to the 18th century.

The surprise comes as you climb the stairs between the flashing drawings. You're not exactly rocketing into the 20th century. It's more a feeling of being led by the hand with a kindly chuckle. But the change is striking. You go from feeling awed by the old religious statues straightforwardly displayed, to feeling as if somehow you had wandered through a secret passage and into some great connoisseur's attic. It has a distinctly homey atmosphere.

Mind you, I can't imagine living in the attic of a 14th- century castle in France. But as I made my way among the whimsically -- and beautifully -- framed drawings and paintings grouped by artist but also close to other paintings that had a common theme or a similar attitude or just the same subject (as in the group of cow representations), and glanced up above them to see old tin shop signs -- a large pair of scissors from an ironmonger, and a six-inch-high, curlicued velocipede -- I kept thinking someonem must live here. The collector of all this must stroll these corridors of an evening, sighing with satisfaction , I thought.

Or if he doesn't, he should. There's such a whimsical, cozy feeling up there it would be a shame not to. Perhaps he would sit down on the tan velvet chaise longue that matches the walls to admire the unicorn in the Claude Domec painting , or just rest on one of the carved African wood chairs and blink at the Matisses among the Ghanaian masks. He would probably let children pat the life-size fiber-glass cow with the landscape painted on it, and perhaps lift up the flaps of protective cloth to show them two cow paintings by other artists hung behind it.

After all, where museums usually soberly list artist, medium, and year, the label in the Donation Granville invitingly reads, "Uncover Lapique . . . and the Dutch cow." There was something so personal about the collection that I felt I knew Pierre Granville before I met him.

But I didn't, or I wouldn't have thought of him as a collector.

"I am not a collector," he says adamantly. First of all, he considers himself a writer. He is an art critic for Le Monde, and also writes "clandestine" novels and poetry.

And besides that, "I don't like that word for me. . . . I don't say anything against anybody who is a collector [but] I have been in contact with so many collections and so many collectors that I have seen behind the collector somebody who is only a speculator." He later settles for the term "amateur" in both senses of the word, a lover of art and a nonprofessional buyer of it.

The Granvilles are not tycoons who have bought art as a hedge against inflation. I interviewed Pierre Granville in the two-room apartment in Paris he has shared with his wife, Kathleen, since 1954. It was a hot day, but still cool up on the seventh floor, on the shady side of the building. The apartment is very restful, painted in a grayish green. It is unpretentious but comfortable. There are several paintings, one displayed on an easel, by a young artist Granville is getting to know and encouraging, as he has so many others.