In Montpellier, the Richer de Belleval hotel is adorned with five contemporary creations

Jime Dine, Abdelkader Benchamma, Olympe Racana-Weiler, Marlène Mocquet and Jan Fabre designed sets for the old town hall, transformed into an exhibition space and a hotel.

In the medieval town of Montpellier, in the 17th century, we had the project to build a new cathedral in the middle of the maze of small streets of the district that we now call the Escutcheon. An entire block was razed to lay the foundations for the new building. But, without knowing why, the construction was never completed. The gaping space gave birth to the Place Canourgue, a name derived from the root “ canorga »In Occitan, meaning canon. On the edges of this square – the largest in the city at the time – Charles de Boulhaco, adviser to the Court of Auditors, had his private mansion built in 1676. The very one that the municipality bought in 1816 to make it its town hall, a function that he kept until 1975, then housed the industrial tribunal for 35 years, before remaining unoccupied, if not. is by pigeons. An emblematic building of the city where many Montpellier residents have been married or tried!

In 2015, the city made the decision to sell this hotel with draconian specifications. The GGL group won the tender with a proposal associating the young GGL Helenis corporate foundation and the Château-Pourcel group. The restoration of the building lasted almost four years under the artistic direction of Numa Hambursin. To continue the artistic gesture undertaken in the 17th century, the Foundation commissioned five contemporary artists who produced lasting works, permanently inscribed in the flesh of the building, which complement the historic decorations. In the building thus richly enhanced, the two chefs Jacques and Laurent Pourcel have set up two restaurants, one gourmet, the other bistronomic, in addition to a 5-star Relais & Châteaux hotel with around twenty rooms. Finally, in a space where the two entrepreneurs imagined a spa, the foundation of the real estate group created an exhibition space, thus respecting the imperative to keep the place open to Montpellier residents. Barely opened, the space is already a great success with around a hundred visitors a day.

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When you enter the Richer de Belleval hotel, your eyes are immediately drawn to the ceiling designed by Jim Dine, one of the last representatives of pop art. The 86-year-old artist worked in partnership with the Sèvres manufacture, which produced enamels of all colors for him: on 105 sandstone tiles arranged in a checkerboard pattern are displayed in as many hearts. The effect is absolutely superb. On the left, we enter the reception of the hotel whose ceiling was entrusted to Abdelkader Benchamma: on the vaults, the artist painted in Indian ink a huge fresco in homage to the alchemist tradition of the Middle East. Age. We then enter the dining room with its sumptuous baroque ceiling, completely restored. We discover allegories from the 17th century, framed by stucco painted with gold leaf. You then have to take the grand staircase and look up to discover above twelve profiles of emperors, the Telescope by the painter Marlène Mocquet, a garden of Eden where birds and happy creatures mingle, around an 11 m² painting in gilded wood with brass leaf.

At the top of the stairs on the right, a vestibule was completely painted by Olympe Racana-Weiler. This is the first work in situ by this painter. She delivers a composition in very bright colors, a mysterious oracle, a nod to the wall frescoes. On the other side of the monumental staircase, the Belgian visual artist Jan Fabre adorned the old wedding hall – now the bar – with a set of original mosaics. Appointed Tribute to a free spirit, these five panels are inspired by botanical prints by Pierre Richer de Belleval, the king’s doctor and creator in the 16th century of the first Jardin des Plantes de France, in Montpellier. For this, he recovered thousands of beetle shells and elytra from the Congo, and patiently assembled them to recompose the history of Montpellier in his own way. “ In the center, two giant phoenixes hold a snake in their talons, a symbol of resurrection and eternity. An allusion to the past of Montpellier, a city besieged and ravaged by the plague, but also an allusion to its botanical garden created in the 16th century, destroyed during the wars of religion and restored by its inventor », Explains Juliana Stoppa, the director of the foundation. We then go down to the ground floor to visit the beautiful exhibition dedicated to Jim Dine where we can see his oldest paintings as well as his most recent. A timeless visit while being in tune with the times.

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