I have just returned from visiting the Villa Noailles in Hyeres. It is a fascinating reminder of the extraordinary lives of the great French patrons, Viscount and Viscountess de Noailles.
One tends to hear more about Marie-Laure de Noailles than about her husband,Charles, but in fact they were both active patrons of a wide range of artistic and musical activities for a very long time. Marie-Laure seems to have carried on with her support right up to her death in 1970.
The house was designed by the modernist architect, Robert Mallet-Stevens, in 1923/4 and first occupied from 1925. Large extensions, involving a gym, a swimming pool, a squash court, and many extra bedrooms (the villa eventually had 15), meant that it was not finally finished until 1933. It is built in an uncompromisingly modern inter-war style and parts of it resemble Wells Coates’ work at 10 Palace Gate in London.
Most of its original contents were dispersed after the death of the Viscountess, when the family sold it to the town. One gets the impression that the Villa was her passion rather than his, certainly in the later years of family ownership.A video was running in one of the rooms of the Viscountess being interviewed towards the end of her life, sitting on the lawn at the front of the house.The Viscount is said to have spent a lot of his time at a house in Grasse (East down the Riviera). There was also a large house in Paris.
I saw no mention of the two daughters, but I know that the family archives are still privately owned as I enquired a while ago about access for the purposes of my Watson research. The staff at the Villa were extremely helpful and quickly produced a charming photograph of Watson up a tree in the amazing garden with the two girls. I imagine there may be other mentions of Watson, as he seems to have stayed there a few times. The names mentioned in the various exhibits in the Villa read like a catalogue of Watson’s French friends: Auric, Sauguet, Poulenc and Markevitch on the musical side and Picasso, Giacometti, Berard , Dali etc on the artistic side.
All in all, this was a fascinating visit and highly recommended for anyone in the area.