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Posted December 11, 2023

An Elementalist and Mediterranean Architecture

  • The patio. Photo Claire Dorn.
  • Exhibition space. Photo Claire Dorn.
  • View of Hans Hartung's studio © Stanislas Valroff.
  • View of Hans Hartung's spaces window © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Hans Hartung's exhibition spaces © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Hans Hartung's exhibition spaces © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Anna-Eva Bergman's exhibition space © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Anna-Eva Bergman's studio © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • Garden. Photo Claire Dorn.
  • View of the reception and shop building. Photo Yann Raout.
  • The patio. Photo Claire Dorn.
  • Exhibition space. Photo Claire Dorn.
  • View of Hans Hartung's studio © Stanislas Valroff.
  • View of Hans Hartung's spaces window © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Hans Hartung's exhibition spaces © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Hans Hartung's exhibition spaces © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Anna-Eva Bergman's exhibition space © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • View of Anna-Eva Bergman's studio © Fondation Hartung-Bergman.
  • Garden. Photo Claire Dorn.
  • View of the reception and shop building. Photo Yann Raout.

Text by Jean-Lucien Bonillo

Throughout his life, most of which he shared with Anna-Eva Bergman (Stockholm 1909 – Grasse 1987), Hans Hartung (Leipzig 1904-Antibes 1989) saw living as the construction of a world consistent with his work as a painter. Hence his insistence on designing his own homes as studio houses: the first in Fornells, Menorca, in 1934, the second in Paris in 1957 (an elevated apartment), the third completed in Antibes in 1972.

House designed by Hans Hartung at Menorca, 1933. Photographer unknown. 

The purchase of a plot of land in 1961, planted mainly with olive trees and a few maritime pines, was followed by numerous personal studies. To compensate for his lack of technical knowledge, Hartung nevertheless called on several architects - oral tradition has it that there were around ten, a figure that is undoubtedly excessive - to help him with the design and construction work. Mario Jossa, architect and friend of the painter, was the last to work on this studio house project. Over and above its intrinsic and immediate use value, Hartung's ambition, as expressed by Jean-Lucien Bonillo, professor at the École nationale supérieure d'architecture de Marseille, was to protect and maintain the memory of his work through a private foundation that would guarantee, after his death, the creative, conservation and cataloguing work carried out throughout his career.

The Hartung-Bergman Foundation was born of this desire. We would like to emphasize two key features of the house. On the one hand, there is the reference to a double tradition: the Mediterranean vernacular and the Roman domus; on the other, there is the rejection of the technical expression of modernity in favour of a plasticity that could be described as elementalist. The composition of the house's spaces is based on two perpendicular axes and two courtyards. The intersecting axes where the vestibule and large courtyard meet manage functional and status contrasts between spaces: day and public vs. night and private for the north-south axis and living and performance rooms vs. technical and service rooms for the east-west axis.
The exterior courtyards also reflect the traditional domestic hierarchy that leads from the most public to the most private. The larger of the two is open on one side, overlooking the workshops and the great horizon. It refers to the Mediterranean archetype of the atrium, and the swimming pool is equivalent to the impluvium. The substitute for the peristyle is a cantilevered awning that runs in continuity across the three plunging views of the Fondation: patio, olive grove and workshops Hans Hartung's former open-air studio, now an exhibition space. The smaller, more intimate courtyard is fully enclosed and planted with an olive tree.

The main volumes form three main buildings with adjoining rooms that enclose the courtyards. There are no corridors. This layout, adapted to a vacation home and in line with the Roman domus model, may have seemed more convenient to Hans Hartung, who had to deal with his handicap (reduced motor skills following a wartime leg injury). The overall massing is directly inspired by Mediterranean vernacular architecture. This reference is borne out both by the many photographs of traditional houses and villages taken during his travels in the Mediterranean - particularly in Carboneras, Spain - and by the painter's own explicit statement of his intentions.

Like the architects of the Modern Movement, Hans Hartung was convinced of the exemplary value of these simple architectures, with their varied, harmoniously assembled cubic volumes, terraced roofs and facades of uniform, immaculate whiteness. The painter strove to remain as close as possible to these architectures, rejecting the canons of Bauhaus-affiliated modernism. Instead, his work and vision are closer to those of his patriotic contemporary, the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann, who in the 1930s carried out ethnographically inspired artistic work on the houses of Ibiza. All in all, the spaces of the house establish a strong, graduated relationship with nature. The powerful buttresses, which have no technical justification, testify to a desire to anchor the building in the ground, and to the priority given to formal play and aesthetic dimension.

The work on lighting systems, both natural and artificial, illustrates this aspect. The lighting in the bedrooms is indirect, like illuminated cavities. The joinery consists of a technical device broken down into layers: glazing, mosquito netting, louver, whose frame is recessed into the wall. Its pure cut out evokes that of a landscape painting, albeit without a frame. The woodwork can also disappear, tucked away inside the walls. There are many windows, and the horizontal ones with very low spandrels reflect the constrained position of the painter in his wheelchair. Hartung's numerous drawings testify to his obsession with the right measure, harmonic lines and the golden ratio, and his desire to design everything and have it made to measure to avoid prefabricated components and standards, as evidenced by the variety of door sizes. "Construction was a long, patient process for us, sometimes a trial of strength," confided Hartung, before adding, in view of the finished building site: "But I held firm, and our house is finally just as we dreamed it would be. I'm proud of it.”

This article was published before in the book Fondation Hartung-Bergman, 2014, p. 35-38. Jean-Lucien Bonillo is professor at the École Nationale of architecture of Marseille.

This video gives a tour of the Fondation Hartung-Bergman (French spoken). 

Cover of the catalogue Fondation Hartung Bergman. 

Posted December 11, 2023