It was a chance remark made as I was leaving to revisit Vézelay, the amazing Basilica which dates from the mid-ninth century: "You'll be going to the Zervos Museum too, won't you?" I stopped in my tracks. I had never heard of this museum. So it was explained to me that this was a small gem of a museum, not to be missed. Easy to find as you climb the hill to the imposing Basilica dominating the hills of green central Burgundy.
So after I had lingered and marvelled at the Romanesque architecture, the extraordinary stone carvings on portals and pillars (now a little over-restored to my eyes, but perhaps I should not cavil) and listened to monks and nuns chanting their midday services, I found my way to the discreet entrance to the Zervos Museum.
After a charming welcome, I wandered into the house, once the home of Romain Rolland, the French writer, who spent time there during the Second World War until his death in 1944. Christian Zervos, born in Greece but a naturalised Frenchman, was noted for his Cahiers d'Art which he edited from his rue du Dragon office in Paris' 6th arrondissement, above the gallery he also ran. His connections to Vézelay began when he and his wife bought a small farm there in 1937; there they entertained Picasso, Léger, Le Corbusier, Paul Eluard and many other artists over the years. In 1970, Zervos left his collection of Cahiers d'Art and art to Vézelay. He and his wife, Yvonne, are buried in the cemetery near the Basilica.
I was indeed fascinated and astonished at the museum art collection, which ranges from Kandinsky, Giocometti and Miro to Calder mobiles and a small painting, Picassos, a huge Léger mural, Raoul Dufy, Dogon sculptures from Mali, small but exquisite Cycladic and Middle Eastern pieces. A personal collection, acquired with friendship and a keen, discerning eye - the result is a delight to see.
The small museum is beautifully arranged, with a clever adaption of the house and its still-personal Roland touches. The views out over Burgundy are timeless and beautiful, even on a grey afternoon. The bonus is the wonderful post and beam attic, where the Cahiers d'Art, the Cycladic and other objects are displayed. It is just beautiful in its strength and harmony.
I was so entranced that I forgot to take photographs, but I have found these images on the web. They give a flavour of a museum well worth a visit when you have the luck to travel to Vézelay, France.