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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Avignon (Third post)

Monday 9th April

Easter Monday. Up early to catch a train to Orange, famous according to the Rough Guide for its Roman Theatre and the French National Front. We decided to pass on buying our black shirts, and instead went into the theatre, the only one in Europe with a complete stage wall. IMG_3206-3209

In fact, there are only two other such buildings remaining (of the several hundred built), one in Turkey and one in Syria. The seats are carved into the hillside behind, although much of the marble internal decoration of the stage has predictably been sacked over the centuries.

Coffee and a crepe chocolat followed by a flying visit to the town museum. It contains an eclectic series of exhibits in true country town style, although of quite decent quality. Roman remains include heads of gods and sphinxes taken from a mausoleum discovered to the north of the town, and marble work removed from the theatre, including friezes of centaurs engaged in country pursuits. Particularly important (I imagine) although not particularly interesting, are the remains of a first century land registry, a sort of giant stone Ordnance Survey map. The remainder of the ground floor is taken up with contemporary portraits of the counts (from 1178, princes) of Orange.

Upstairs on the first floor is a good selection of 18th century engravings of Orange's Roman remains. The Enlightenment certainly seemed to be more than a little interested in accurately recording Antiquity - perhaps there was a hint of premonition of the ravages to be wrought by the urbanisation of the coming Industrial Revolution.

Two minor families are also recorded on the first floor, the Gasparins who hailed from Corsica in the 16th century, and the Wetters, who founded a local cotton printing industry in the 18th century. Wall panels by Gabriel-Maria Rossetti show what is probably a much idealised view of life in the Wetter factory.

It is the top floor that perhaps contains the best of the museum, showing the late 19th and early 20th century works of two artists with a British connection. Frank Brangwyn was born in 1867 in Bruges. He decorated the façade of a new Art Nouveau gallery in Paris in 1895 and also worked in Leeds, the House of Lords and New York's Rockefeller Center. Particularly known for his watercolours, engravings and lithographs of work-related subjects. He died in 1956 in Ditchling, Sussex.

Albert de Belleroche, was born in Swansea and later travelled to Paris with his mother, who gave lavish society parties, entertaining Edward VII amongst others. He drew inspiration from John Singer-Sargent and also knew and associated with Zola, Wilde, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, whose portrait he painted in 1882. From 1890 he practised as an artist in the Montmartre. A friend of Brangwyn, he was admired by Renoir and obtained success at the 1904 Autumn Salon. He returned to Sussex and retirement, dying in Southwell, Nottinghamshire in 1944.

IMG_3237After lunch we strolled up to the top of the St-Eutrope hill, for a brief glance at the ruins of the château of the princes of Orange, demolished in a fit of pique by Louis XIV. Fortunately he rather liked the Roman theatre, so he left that untouched. The other significant monument in Orange is the triumphal arch, erected by Roman legionaries in thanks to Rome's conquests in Gaul. The remaining frieze-work on the arch seems somewhat rusticated when compared to that on the arches in Rome, although the deeply inscribed sinuous tracery provides a touch of uncharacteristic originality.

We made an early start back to Avignon for a short rest and shower, before going out for a relaxing cocktail and some nibbles.