Among the rooms open to the public are the ground floor dining room, complete with an enormous black Baroque dresser that appears in nine of Picasso’s paintings; a mandolin, visible in some of his still lifes; and a favourite shiny oak table. His Matisses and Modiglianis used to hang on the walls and a bust of Jacqueline stood in the corner.
After watching a short film shot in the château showing Picasso, almost 80, in tartan trousers and grey cashmere V-neck throwing objects for numerous dogs, visitors can see his white, stuccoed studio, left untouched since he last painted there, a set of giant skittles (a gift from Marc Chagall’s daughter) in the corner and the terracotta floor splattered with paint drips and lined with oversized easels.
There’s also a giant palette, although Picasso tended to use a table top to mix his colours.
Picasso’s arrival at the château in 1959 marked a shift in his art.
In the grounds of Château de Vauvenargues, near the Provençal town of Aix-en-Provence, there is a simple mound of earth, covered in grass and ringed by ivy.
Perched on top is a curvaceous bronze nude, made by Pablo Picasso in 1933, and exhibited alongside Guernica in the Paris international exhibition of 1937.
But, in terms of significance, it doesn’t come close to what lies beneath: the body of the artist himself.
This summer, 36 years after Picasso’s death, the château in the south of France opens its gates to the public for the first time.
The Spanish artist bought Château de Vauvenargues in 1958 after he discovered it in the foothills of Mont Sainte-Victoire, the mountain immortalised in countless paintings by Paul Cézanne, the man Picasso regarded as his artistic father.
“The position of the château literally on Cézanne’s mountain made it like a magical object to Picasso,” says Bruno Ely, curator of the nearby Musée Granet in Aix which is holding a major Picasso-Cézanne retrospective this summer.
“Picasso telephoned his dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler to tell him he had just purchased Cézanne’s Sainte-Victoire. ’ Kahnweiler asked, presuming Picasso was talking about a painting. ’ replied Picasso.” The current owner, Catherine Hutin (the daughter of Picasso’s second wife Jacqueline Roque from her earlier marriage to engineer André Hutin) has been persuaded to allow exceptional public access to the château for four months this summer to coincide with the Musée Granet exhibition.
Small groups arriving in a special shuttle bus from Aix have an hour to visit the cobbled guardroom where Picasso’s body lay in state; five interior rooms; and, at the foot of the château’s main façade, the burial site where Roque (who committed suicide in 1986) lies alongside her famous husband.