The architect Robert Mallet-Stevens designed the Villa Noailles in the 1920s for the Noailles, husband and wife patrons of the arts, and it has hosted some of the greatest artists of the time, from Man Ray to Giacometti. Today, fully restored and remaining true to its original purpose, it is a renowned art centre, known in particular for its International Fashion and Photography Festival. We asked the artist Xavier Veilhan to show us around this home that he knows so well, having shot his film, “Vent Moderne” here in 2015.
I discovered the Villa Noailles in 2008 for an Erwan and Ronan Bouroullec exhibition. I was blessed with an opportunity to spend the night there, in one of the guest bedrooms. It was an incredible experience.
The architecture of the Villa Noailles is full of compromises and ambiguities. It isn’t the perfect building, and that’s what I find so beguiling. It is testament to Robert Mallet-Stevens' relationship with the Noailles, which wasn’t the most straightforward.
As artists, we have the luxury of being able to visit and work at the villa, and we were given carte blanche when filming Vent Moderne. We were able to explore every nook and cranny of the house thanks to the trust of Jean-Pierre Blanc, the Villa Noailles’ director.
I love the connection the house makes with nature. The Mediterranean plants and South of France’s light, the wind that can sometimes be intoxicating. There was a lot of wind when we were filming. It was a magical experience to shoot these beautiful trees and stirring vegetation. That’s how we came up with the film’s title: Vent Moderne (Modern Wind)
In front of the house, characterised by it cubist forms, wide rectangular openings are cut out of the perimeter wall, opening out onto the void. For me, this is one of the most successful spaces in the Villa Noailles, with its beautiful framed views of the surrounding landscape.
The triangular cubist garden is one of my favourite places in the Villa Noailles. Forming the house’s prow, squeezed between white walls, it is the work of the architect and landscape gardener, Gabriel Guevrekian.
In Les Mystères du Château de Dé, which Man Ray filmed on location in 1929, all of the characters wear masks. Marie-Laure and Charles de Noailles dance on the rooftop... There’s simultaneously a fantastical and worrying feel to this film, a feeling that I find more generally throughout the villa.
There are so many remarkable details, like this Francis Jourdain clock that can be found in every room. The Noailles enlisted the most avant-garde creatives of the time, like Jean Prouvé for the metal window and door frames, and Louis Barillet for the windows.
As a film, Vent Moderne is a digression, a black and white journey through different buildings designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens: the Villa Noailles, the Hotel Martel in Paris, and the Villa Cavrois in Croix. These spaces and their modernist architecture inspired me. I like the take on modernity that is both dreamy and practical. There’s something in it that we have almost lost.