The American painter Jane Eakin (1919-2002) lived in Ménerbes for 40 years and now her blue-shuttered house in a steep, narrow street, the montée Sainte Barbe, has been turned into a charming museum, the Maison Jane Eakin.

Left much as it was when she was working there, the house is jam-packed with her sun-drenched paintings and personal effects and is convincing proof – if proof were still needed – of the tonic effect of moving to the South of France.

Eakin married a distinguished New York journalist, Robert Kleiman, who was based in Paris in the 1950s but, expected to give up painting and become a society hostess, Jane was ill at ease there.

After her divorce, she had a long relationship with the violinist and conductor Isaac Stern, but this too eventually ended when she was unable to give him children (the couple remained close, however).

Nude in an Orange Hat by Jane Eakin

Eakin was understandably feeling low when a friend and neighbour, her fellow-artist Joe Downing, told her about the hill village in the Luberon where he had a house. She went down to see Ménerbes, and was sold.

She left the sophisticated and glamorous circles she had known in Paris to spend the rest of her life there as an active and popular member of the community. Pictured: Sylvie with Grapes (top left) and Nude in an Orange Hat (right).

When she died, Eakin left her house and paintings to the village she loved. About a hundred of her pieces are on display there in every available corner; the Town Hall owns about twice as many again, which are currently kept in store. Some members of the Jane Eakin Foundation which runs the museum, knew her personally and will be delighted to talk about her to visitors.

The ground floor of the Maison Jane Eakin has an introductory area with photographs and souvenirs in her former kitchen, filled with fruit and flowers just as the artist liked it. Next is a room of posters of her early exhibitions, simply marked Eakin in case anyone was still prejudiced against female artists. Her Paris paintings are here too.

These are unsurprisingly rather gloomy, but the later work on the upper floors – impressionist portraits and landscapes glowing with colour and light – shows how Eakin’s art bloomed when she arrived in the South.

“I have hugged life to me and had the joy of feeling life hug me back,” Eakin wrote the year before she died, and you can certainly see that in her art.

Her work wasn’t just about an idyllic, almost fantasy vision of Provence. Other displays show Eakin’s brief early flirtation with cubism or a book of wryly satirical New Yorker-ish cartoons about a woman’s lot with the self-explanatory title I Do All The Work Around Here (and an introduction by Danny Kaye). Watch out, too, for vivid portraits of a watchful Jean Seberg, playing an artist in the 1963 film In the French Style and of a dowager-like Alice B Toklas.

Jane Eakin studio in Menerbes

On the first floor are Eakin’s open-plan bedroom, an office with furniture brightly painted by her and the guest bedroom, now a screening room where you can watch a film (subtitled in English) about the artist. On the top floor her airy studio, pictured, overlooks the mountains.

This is a typical hill-village house, narrow, steep and troglodyte (built into the rock-face) and so the visit isn’t suitable for anyone with restricted mobility. Eakin herself became bedridden and couldn’t cope with the stairs at the end of her life.

The Maison Jane Eakin is open every summer from May to October and organises a lively programme of cultural events both at the house itself and at other venues in Ménerbes such as La Maison de la Truffe et du Vin.

Source: www.marvellous-provence.com

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