11 June 2011

Varzy, a mass, and a painting

I'm back at home in Saint-Aignan this morning. Yesterday we started our drive in Auxerre [oh-SEHR] in Burgundy and drove down to Varzy [vahr-ZEE] in the area called La Nièvre. It was raining.

Our first real stop, after quick coffee in a café in Clamecy [klahm-SEE] was in the village of Varzy (pop. 1350), which I had never heard tell of before. There's a museum there, and in its collection is an 1867 painting by CHM's grandfather, Charles-Henri Michel (b.1817–d.1905). The curator of the museum had agreed to show it to CHM, even though the painting is not on display for the public.

Mass on a Friday morning in the church at Varzy

We arrived in Varzy in a steady, chilly rain, and we were about 45 minutes early. We decided to go look around in the church, a gothic structure built between 1230 and 1280. There was a priest officiating at mass for about six people, all women. They weren't in the main part of the church, but up front in a little chapel off to one side. We could walk around and look at the rest of the building, quietly, without disturbing the service.

Two closer views of the priest holding mass

A few minutes later, we went and found the museum, after a little bit of searching. It was still raining. We arrived at the museum 15 minutes early for the appointment CHM had agreed to, and it wasn't yet open for the day. We found a place where we we were protected from the cold rain and stood and waited. I took a couple of pictures of the Hôtel de Ville, which is on the same square as the museum.

The town hall and library at Varzy

The curator drove in from Nevers, the main city in the Nièvre, arriving right at the appointed hour. After some small talk, he went into the museum storeroom, brought out the unframed painting, and unrolled it on the floor for us to be able to see it. It's big, nearly 2.5 meters tall and 1.75 meters wide. The figures depicted are perhaps not quite life-size, but very close.

CHM's grandfather's 1867 painting titled Le Renoncement

The museum director didn't fit my stereotype at all. He was probably 45 or 50 years old and dressed in rumpled and faded blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a faded red zippered jacket of some kind. His head was shaved, and both his head and his face were covered in a three-day growth of stubble. There was nothing stuffy about him at all.

A scale model of the Varzy church

We didn't stay long, and then we headed off for the three-hour drive back to Saint-Aignan.


  1. Again... CHM's grandfather's work is just stunning. How did he know that this town had one of his grandfather's paintings?


  2. Hi Judy, CHM just told me that he has a book that gives biographies of famous, successful people from the Picardy region. He read in that book that his grandfather's painting had been bought by the French government back in the late 1860s and ceded to the museum in Varzy, which still owns it.

  3. That's a wonderful painting. Too bad it's rolled up in a closet somewhere.

  4. What a great trip! Thanks for taking us along.

  5. You were in my old neck of the woods. I wish I could find someone who blogs from my old grounds but it is such the boondocks, no such luck. I am glad you are back home as I was thinking you might be caught in the "Pentecôte" holiday traffic.

  6. A beautiful painting. Your picture must just be of a portion of it, given the size. Love the scale model of the church.

    So with all this this rain is the secheresse over?

  7. LOVE the hôtel de ville.

  8. You have reminded me why we didn't choose to have a home in northern France, even though we love it - it rains a lot.

  9. I'm wondering too why the painting is rolled up rather than hung up.

    Thanks for the great trip, Ken!

  10. Hi Betty-Ann,
    That painting was given to the Varzy Museum in 1867 and probably was never hung because of its size. At the time, the museum was housed in what is now the town hall and I guess the ceilings were not high enough to accommodate that painting. I guess it was unframed and rolled up early in its stay in Varzy, put into reserve, and never reframed. It is not in the best of shape, but still better than two other of my grandfather's paintings in the museum in Amiens, which are also rolled up but in a very sorry condition. My impression after talking with the curator is that they'd like to lend it to another museum who would spend money to restore it, reframe it and be able to hang it properly.

    Until the Patrimoine Act of 2002 most museums were not really required to take good care of their collections, especially of the less well-known artists, such as my grandfather. So sad!


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