Any visit to uplifting Aix-en-Provence is always seductive, but combine it with the prospect of a rare view of one of the most prominent private art collections in the world, and then it’s off-the-charts exciting.

Not much is known about the early days of the collection, but we do know that the Princes of Liechtenstein have been great connoisseurs and collectors of art since at least the 16th century, and that they have continued in accordance with the Baroque ideal of royal patronage of the arts. Each generation of the family has consistently nurtured this treasure through systematic acquisitions. Among its many remarkable pieces, the collection includes over 35 paintings by Rubens, making this one of the world’s largest groupings of the Flemish master’s work.

The portraits that were commissioned to the preeminent artists of the day – including a splendid painting of Princess Caroline as Iris, by Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun – offer a glimpse of the artistic tastes and choices of a central European royal family over five centuries. The exhibition presents a chronological and thematic arrangement of masterpiece after masterpiece.

Among this opulent splendor, there are the more intimate discoveries, such as the restrained greyscale of the Portrait of a Man by Frans Hals, made even more striking in its austere contrast, or the adorable purity of baby Princess Mary Franziska asleep in her cradle cuddling a doll, next to a rather more martial image of baby Franz Joseph I, pictured with his toy soldiers, foreshadowing his destiny as the future emperor of Austria. It’s all in the family.

With around 40 paintings from the 16th to the 19th century, the Caumont Centre d’Art together with curator Dr. Johann Kräftner, Director of the Princes’ Collections in Vienna and Vaduz, have managed to produce a generous, world-class exhibition at the heart of beautiful Provence.

TIP: Do allow yourself time for a pause in the lovely café and bistro set in the 18th-century formal gardens.

The Collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, until March 20, Caumont Centre d’Art. 3, rue Joseph Cabassol, Aix-en-Provence. Open every day 10am-7pm, Tuesdays until 9:30pm. Entry €11. Tel: +33 4 42 161 161

From France Today magazine

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