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The Rignault museum

A jewel of architecture and landscape Valley view from the Rignault museum

Turning the corner of a cobbled street at the foot of the church, the Rignault Museum serenely awaits ,  full of charms and secrets. Out of curiosity, push the door of this saint-cirquoise house open and dive directly into a haven of history!

 

A typical village house opens its doors

The museum is first and foremost a typical family house where beautiful and surprising artistic, architectural and natural exhibits are mixed together in a complementary and fascinating fashion.

The museum  also offers its visitors a beautiful garden with breathtaking views of the Lot Valley. Its a place suspended in time and space, between the sky and the river, between the stones and the flowers, between past and present.

 

Château de la Gardette - the old advance guardhouse

This old fortress is located on the edge of the cliff. Called the Chateau de la Gardette, it was built by the lord of Saint-Sulpice Hébrard below the fort of St. Cirq Lapopie  which originally housed the four major families of the village - the Lapopies, the Gourdons, the Cardaillacs and the Castelnaux. The Hébrard nobles moved their residence outside the upper enclosure  (the village on the headland), for greater comfort. 

The fort also housed soldiers guarding the castle higher up. It was a strategic point giving forewarning to
 the castles around the area about the invasions of the English during the Hundred Years War.

The battlements originally comprised three buildings separated by an alley. Several periods of work were conducted
 between the thirteenth and fifteenth century  on the original fortified house whose remains still appear at the base . Most of its present appearance was tastefully reconstructed by Joseph-Emile Rignault in the twentieth century.

 

Saved by an enlightened patron and art dealer

Rignault took over the property and ruins in 1922 and started profound renovations - the entrance, topped by a watchtower, gothic mullioned bay windows, he closed the old alley  with a reworking of access ways in medieval and Renaissance styles from different regions of France among many other tasteful and lasting improvements.

 

Émile-Joseph Rignault as born in 1874 in Varzy near Nevers. This grandson of a shoemaker spent part of his childhood in La Charité-sur-Loire and in Paris. With a passion for art, he became the a student of Jules Valadon, Gustave Moreau and Armand Guillaumin, with whom he formed lasting friendships. Faced with talented peers in the bustling world of Montmartre, he considered his own artwork dull, preferring to concentrate on the sale of paintings that he knew and loved with an informed eclecticism.
His frequent visits to exhibitions and auctions allowed him to build a collection of drawings and paintings with prestigious names: Callot, Van Dyck, Oudry, Fragonard, Boucherand later to resell them . He proved to be a real connoisseur of works of his contemporaries, among the first discoverers of the 1920s, for example, Soutine at the time hardly known. Five major paintings from this Russian expressionist, now in Avignon, decorated his house in St Cirq.

A love affair with the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie followed. The village, though bruised and ruined by the of the Great War, was enterprising and passionate and this  generous loner became one of the first to invest in the small medieval town, inviting the villagers to meet his friends the artists who come to stay and  sometimes settled here . Among his guests include Man Ray, who left an original work in the Friends of Saint-Cirq Lapopie guestbook.
After the Second World War, Emile Joseph Rignault, concerned about the fate of his collections and offered his paintings (Toulouse-Lautrec, Soutine, Renoir and many others ) and drawings (including Daumier) to French museums. The Calvet Museum in Avignon had the intelligence and happiness to accept the donation in 1946.

The same year, wishing to prove his commitment to the Lot, he donated his house to the General Council of the Lot, with all its furniture and artworks. He died in 1962. His grave is at the foot of the cliff, watching over the the bow of the river in a sublime and romantic setting.
Today, the natural setting of his house, full of artistic beauty, in its setting of remarkable gardens, offers visitors a permanent collection evoking the his life as if he still lived there with his furniture and works of art from the early twentieth century, Europe, Africa, Oceania and Asia. These places were an inspiration and creation for many artists including the Surrealist André Breton who often stayed here and was Rignault's neighbiour for most of the 1950s. The General Council of the Lot is committed to perpetuating the passion of patron Rignault, his opennes and generosity.
© Isabelle Rooryck - Chief Curator of Museums of the Lot département