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Loire castles with quirky modern art twist

Not all of France’s monuments are filled with old masters...

If history doesn’t push your buttons, then the Loire Valley also offers an incredible variety of modern art.

Many chateaux have several pieces, but the Domaine Régional de Chaumont-sur-Loire has a superb collection of modern art, much of it exhibited in the landscaped grounds of the chateau.

There are rope trees growing down from the rafters in the stables, strange mineral flowers in the old tile-making tower, and the private chapel in the chateau itself is filled with an extraordinary collection of what looks at first like candyfloss, with silk birds and mobile phones all caught up in the gossamer threads. It is a playful and irreverent comment on religion and the past, which is reflected throughout the house.

The Château de Rivau at Lémeré (pictured, above and below) is another with a delightful collection of modern art, also in a playful vein.

As you arrive, the first thing you notice is a giant pair of Wellington boots. Wander into the courtyard and there is a huge mole atop a moleheap as well as a carousel horse in a mirrored cage, and Old Mother Hubbard’s shoe.

So far so kitsch, but persevere because inside the castle the art becomes subversive, feminist and darkly humorous.

The trophy room is particularly rewarding; as you walk in it looks like any other olden days manor hall hung with hundreds of horned animal skulls.

But look closer and you will notice the back end of a white rabbit disappearing into the wall, and a stuffed deer’s head wearing false eyelashes and a necklace. “You see women are often trophies too,” said chateau owner, Patricia Laigneau.      

At which point you turn round and see the corpse of a life-sized deer, fashioned out of what looks like stiffened blood-red muslin, hanging upside down in front of the fireplace.

It is not actually bleeding, and there are no wounds or guts, but it is a deeply shocking sight. “It’s a strong comment about trophy hunting, I believe,” said Ms Laigneau.

Indeed it is, but not stronger than the wig hanging on the wall, or any of the other little twists that abound. It is subtle and probably goes right over the heads of visiting children, who will be admiring the rare white peacocks or admiring themselves in the historical costumes which can be hired when you arrive.           

“I want this to be a place of imagination and fantasy,” Ms Laigneau said. “So I made the maze in the shape of the Cheshire Cat. “And I have Rapunzel’s hair and giant stepping stones and a look out post. Children reign here.”

Indeed, this quirky chateau with its events, kitchen garden and playground is heaven for children as well as adults. 

A more intense collection is to be enjoyed at the Château de Montsoreau, which contains conceptual art created by the British ‘Art & Language’ group founded in the late 60s.

It also features a ‘wild garden’ designed on principles evolved by Miriam Rothschild to be a perfect balance between flora and fauna.

For something entirely more playful, the Fondation du Doute in Blois hits the nail right on the head.

As you can guess from the exterior, completely covered in massive Post-It notes by Ben Vautier (usually just known as Ben). It contains works by the Fluxus collective, as well as by Yoko Ono and Ben, the mood varying from whimsical to surreal.

See also: Chateaux-filled valley marks French Renaissance links

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