Re-opening of the Abbey of Beaulieu-en-Rouergue in Ginals (France) and presentation of the Pierre Brache-Genevieve Bonnefoi collection, donated to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux (National Monuments Center)
Last June, and after several years of renovation, the Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu-en-Rouergue, located in Ginals (France) in the Tarn-et-Garonne department, reopened to the public. On this occasion, the major part of the collection gathered by Genevieve Bonnefoi and Pierre Brache is presented in an exhibition entitled ‘A subjective art or the hidden side of the world’ within the abbey houses. Nowadays including some 1.300 works, this collection evidences the interest and admiration of both ‘amateurs’, as they like to call themselves, for the artistic avant-garde that developed in Paris after World War II.
Zao Wou-Ki and Geneviève Bonnefoi at the Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue at the beginning of the 1980s. Photo Olivier Duchain
When they meet at the beginning of the 1940s, Genevieve Bonnefoi and Pierre Brache share the same passion: art and its history. Assiduously frequenting galleries and collectors such as Jean Fournier, Andre Malraux but also René Drouin, with whom they will collaborate for some time, they maintain privileged relationships with the cultural actors and artists of the Parisian scene. Developing their knowledge and sensibility that increase in contact with them, the couple buys many works, thus constituting along the years a collection reflecting the diversity and quality of the production of this period of disruption, deconstruction and renewal of artistic creation. Today, we can notice many works by Henri Michaux, Jean Dubuffet, Simon Hantaï and Serpan, but also the works of artists established out of Paris such as Françoise Berthelot, or Claude Georges. Zao Wou-Ki is represented by four works which are part of the Genevieve Bonnefoi donation in 2019: a painting (Untitled (Boats), 1951, oil on canvas laid on cardboard, 35.5 x 36.5 cm), a watercolor (Untitled, circa 1975-59, 37 x 28.2 cm), an ink (Untitled, 1978, 22 x 16 cm) and a print (Ciel et Terre (Sky and Earth), 1957, lithograph).
Untitled, oil on canvas laid on cardboard, 1951, 35,5 x 36,5 cm. Donation Geneviève Bonnefoi, Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue – Centre des Monuments Nationaux – Photo CMN / Benjamin Gavaudo
Following their desire to promote this art they admire and defend, Pierre Brache and Genevieve Bonnefoi buy in 1960 the Abbey of Beaulieu-en-Rouergue, then in very bad condition, to create a contemporary art center. After a lot of work and the creation of the ‘Cultural association of Beaulieu Abbey’, the center organizes, from 1970, a yearly exhibition of which Genevieve Bonnefoi will be curator until 2010. A writer and art critic as well as a sponsor, she also defends in her publications this art beyond fashion and institutions as evidenced by her book published in 1988, Les années fertiles (Fertile years) – 1940-1960, gathering sources, archives and testimonies. The result of a life dedicated to their passion, Beaulieu Abbey, donated to the National Monuments Center in 1973, and its collection donated by Genevieve Bonnefoi on her death in 2019, became today an essential place for French art of the second half of the 20th Century.
Untitled, watercolor on paper, circa 1957-1959, 37 x 28,2 cm. Donation Geneviève Bonnefoi, Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue – Centre des Monuments Nationaux – Photo CMN / Benjamin Gavaudo
Zao Wou-Ki, who already took part in 2011 in the exhibition entitled ‘Le souffle venu d’Asie’ (The breath that came from Asia) is still there in the exhibition organized for the re-opening of Beaulieu Abbey with a watercolor dated 1957-59. Dedicated to Genevieve Bonnefoi, it reflects the friendly link that united the artist and the collector but it also evidences the important participation of Zao Wou-Ki in the abstraction movements that constitute the essential part of this collection. Presented in the section called ‘Gestes’ (Movements) together with Jean-Paul Riopelle (Untitled, 1964, ink, watercolor and gouache on vellum paper, donated by Genevieve Bonnefoi in 2019), Henri Michaux (Bataille (Battle), 1954, Indian ink on vellum paper, donated by Genevieve Bonnefoi in 2019) as well as Judith Reigl (Eclatement (Burst), 1956, oil on canvas, donated by Genevieve Bonnefoi to the CHMHS in 1974), he perfectly fits into the ‘subjective’ and ‘sincere’ art that Pierre Brache and Genevieve Bonnefoi wanted to promote.
Photo of the exhibition « Un art subjectif ou la face cachée du monde » (A subjective art or the hidden side of the world) at the Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue. Photo Courtesy Abbaye de Beaulieu-en-Rouergue / CMN.