At more than 80 years, Adrien Maeght still has his eyes shining, when he shares with us his passion.
Son of Marguerite and Aimé Maeght, he spent his entire childhood amidst the greatest modern artists. In addition to love for art, he also inherited his father’s love for automobile. Rally driver in his youth, he had to abandon the competition and began to collect old cars, to live his passion otherwisee. Being a very discreet person, Adrien Maeght had never opened his door to the press. Still, we had the privilege to spend a unique moment with him. This man succeeds in transmiting his passion for art and for the automobile, with a disconcerting humility. Let us meet this friend of the artists.
How was your first meeting with the world of the automobile?
My father had always loved beautiful cars. It must be said that my grandfather, who died during the First World War, was a locomotive driver in the North of France. It is therefore hereditary in a way, all the more so because I have always wanted to be a mechanic. But my first real contact with the automobile was around the age of 14, since I had learned to drive a Jeep Willys that was made available to my father, who was in the resistance. By the way, this Jeep has always been an exceptional car for me. Then, at the age of 16, I started getting inyterested in model cars. They are small cars with petrol engines, with which I had a lot of fun, I admit. I tried also motorcycling, with a friend who was also interested in mechanics, but I did not race.
At what age did you get your first car?
At the age 18, I had a Peugeot van, but it was a year later that I had my first “real” car, which I was able to modify. Indeed, my father had bought a Renault 4CV, which he ended up giving to me and with a friend, we inflated it so that it went from its original 30 hp to 52 hp. It was my first competition car.
Did you participate in rallies with the 4CV?
I made the first Loches Rally in 1951. It was very famous at that time, in Touraine. I had even managed to finish in front, just by a pure combination of lucky circumstances. After that, I started running rallyes one after the other, but then, a drama struck my family. In 1953, I lost my brother who was 12 years younger than me, who died of leukemia. Having had an accident, with the car rolling over 3 times during my last rally, my mother, who had just lost a son, did not want to lose another one and made it clear for me. Having acceded to her request, I therefore stopped the rallies, although afterwards I was taking part in some, like the Mono1000 or the Rome-Liège rally, but to a lesser extent. The most important thing at that time was that I could keep the friends I was running with, like Hernando Da Silva Ramos.
How did you get started in art?
It’s thanks to my father. At the end of First World War, he lived in Hazebrouck, near Lille, and as an orphan of war, his studies were taken care of by the French State, in Nimes. He decided to study in order to obtain a diploma as a lithographer and that is why he entered a printing company in Cannes. It was there, moreover, that he met my mother, Marguerite Devaye, the daughter of a wealthy tradesman, Marguerite Devaye, whom he married. In 1932 he opened his own printing company, ARTE (Arts and Graphic Techniques). It was at this point that he met Pierre Bonnard and through him, Henri Matisse. During the Second World War, my parents welcomed artists who sought refuge in the free zone, but after the arrest of Jean Moulin, to whom they were closely linked, we left Cannes for Saint-Paul de Vence. We went to see Matisse every day. After that, well supported by his contacts, my father opened a gallery in Paris in October 1945, with an exhibition of Henri Matisse and that’s how he started in art. With my mother, they had an extraordinary passion for art and they welcomed the most modern painters of the time: Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Pierre Bonnard, of course, and many others.
This is how my father became the biggest art dealer in the world, when I first joined the gallery as a deliveryman and framer. 10 years later, I opened my own gallery. After the death of my parents, I found myself with galleries all over the world, in New York, Zurich, Barcelona, Paris and Japan, with 250 employees. My father’s estate was complicated, since I had a half-sister. So I had to sell some galleries. I kept the printing press, but when you do not take care of a business, it works badly. And then I had the foundation.
Tell us more about the Maeght Fondation
A month after the death of my younger brother, my parents were in despair. Georges Braque then came to see my father, who had spoken to him about his desire to achieve something that would go beyond the arts trade. Braque then proposed to create a non-profit uinstitution, which would allow artists to expose their sculptures and paintings in the best possible conditions of light and space. My parents settled on the creation of the Marguerite et Aimé Maeght Foundation and were able to overcome their pain, and I was able to assist them throughout this process, which resulted in its inauguration, in 1964. Today, 50 years later, it is still as faithful to its main role, since it is a true foundation, that belongs to nobody in particular and has no subsidy. There is an elected president, a manager and a board of directors, with 3 representatives from the State.
How did you start collecting old cars?
In fact, I turned to the old cars a bit out of spite, because I could no longer race with modern cars. In these times, one got rid of old cars or cannibalized them and it was then that I began to redeem them. The first of my collection was a Ford T, which I found in 1956 in Saint-Paul de Vence, when my father had opened his barn. He wanted to destroy it, so I got it back.
There were few collectors at that time. The Hispano Suiza was bought by weight from a breaker at 60 cents per kilo (10 francs) in 1960. There was even someone who once told me that he would offer me his car if I bought a new battery for it. In 1970, it was the Bugatti 57 S that came to enrich my collection. I was the 5th owner. It has notably passed in the hands of the painter Amédée Ozenfant, who bought it himself from André Derain, who was a great friend of Bugatti. He owned 18 Bugatti, including prototypes from the 57S. It is a real vintage car, which participated in the Grand Prix of Lyon in 1924 and which had already begun to gain value when I had acquired it, more than 40 years ago. But my favorite is still the Alfa Romeo 6C of 1929, which I had found among a collector’s possessions and bought from him, in 1972. It is even a star now, for she just shoot in a film of Woody Allen. My passion for old cars was such that I decided to launch the magazine L’Automobiliste in 1966, the first of its kind in France, in my own printing shop in Paris. You know, I do not love just old cars in particular, I love cars in general. Sports cars, luxury cars (the Rolls Royce par excellence), popular cars (the Citroën 2 CV) and military cars.
Do you take care of the maintenance of your vehicles all by yourself?
For restoration, I like to take care of it myself, when it is simple. Otherwise, I send them to specialized workshops, like the bodybuilder Le Coq, who is a great restaurateur of vintage cars. It was I who gave him his first car to restore.
For you, is there a difference between a work of art and a car?
A car is made to make noise and to be moved, while a work of art, one can only contemplate it. A car that does not work is absurd, it serves no purpose.
Which cars would you buy for your collection?
Indeed, I already have of them what pleases me. I would have liked to have other cars, but I am satisfied with the ones I already have. For me, the 3 most beautiful are the Alfa Romeo 6C, the Bugatti 35 and the Hispano Suiza of 1921. Modern cars tempt me less. On a daily basis, I drive a Citroën C6. I am faithful to the French automobile.
Do you regret having been separated from some of them?
I regret to have sold the Swimwagen designed by Porsche. They could not be found and that was the only one. It was on this car that he invented the self-locking ballbridge, but the engine was a little light (40 hp, a VW).
You’ve organized vintage car races. Tell us about them
When I organized the first vintage car race in 1966, the keyword was the show. We just wanted to have fun. It’s like when we did the Mono 1000. The 3 winners were evendrawn in a hat. It was a great show, a feast. For this first race, we had fun and we even agreed on who was going to finish in the three first positions and it worked very well. The following year, I was stupid enough to hire Rafael Pozonin, a former stock car driver, who had settled on antique cars. He wanted to do an organized race with points and ranking. Finally, there were 3 broken cars, a pilot who nearly got himself killed and another one whose car caught fire and suddenly, I put an end to it.
Do you have racing anecdotes to share with our readers?
One year, I had raced at the Mille Miglia, with the 375 MM. I enjoyed it all the way to Rome, but at one point my assistance car did not follow me. I was just in front of the carabinieri car that closed the rally. Stopping at a gas station, he asked me why I was slowing down in the villages, while there were thousands of people all along. He offered me to put the hooter on and I traveled more than 300 km that way. I met Jean Sage in Rome, who was with a journalist who commented on Formula1 and I lent him my car on the way back, while I followed behind with the assistance car, a Rolls Royce. Some of the drivers on the race were dangerous ones, especially the British, who were not sober either, and there was one who even passed me while I was simultaneoiusly passing another car in a turn. But it seems that for the 2 past years, they have now put a car in front, that must not be passed.
One year with Jean Guichet, we raced the Targa Florio, in Sicily. It was really beautiful. Guichet took part in it 5 or 6 times and he won twice, with a Ferrari. Enzo Ferrari was very fond of him and it is thanks to him that I met Enzo several times in Maranello. I even had the opportunity to have lunch in the Commendatore’s canteen.