During this year’s European heritage weekend I went to visit a selection of different places – some I’d been to before, and others that I had never visited. The garden of the Villa Antonine in Béziers was one of the latter.
I parked in the car park near the church of the Immaculate Conception, and walked along Boulevard de Geneve to where it meets Rue Jean Valette. Villa Antonine occupies the corner plot between these two streets.
Villa Antonine was built by the father of the sculptor Jean-Antoine Injalbert in 1884 as a summer residence. At that time, it would have stood on its own, a little away from the city. Today, the surrounding area is very much built up. When you enter the garden, you leave all the hustle and bustle behind you, it is (normally) an oasis of calm. Not surprisingly, on the day of my visit it was busier than usual.
Jean-Antoine Injalbert enlarged the property he inherited from his father, adding a couple of artists’ studios and installing some of his sculptures in the gardens. The studios were open to visitors on the day I visited, with exhibitions by Christine Granier (sculptures), Loux (paintings), and works by Geff Strik.
There are two very different gardens – one which is entered from Boulevard de Geneve and which leads up to the original villa. The layout of this garden is more formal, with flower beds edged with box-tree hedges, gravel paths, and lawns.
Against one wall is a pergola, where a wisteria shades a Neptune fountain, which is sadly not working any longer.
The other garden is behind a second building, which is at a right angle to the original villa. This building has a slate-roofed tower by its side and a beautiful double staircase.
This garden is shaded by the fully grown trees – in Injalbert’s time it would have looked very different, with all the trees much smaller.
For the heritage weekend, two concerts had been organised in partnership with the Béziers academy of music. I could hear the musicians rehearsing in the background while I was strolling through the garden, the music mixing with the sound of the splashing fountain. It was too good a moment not to be captured (see the video). The musicians were Fabio Galluci (mandolin) and Sabine Liguori-Delmas (piano).
A lot of the sculptures in the garden were “sketches” – preparations for the final sculptures. Injalbert’s works can be found all over the region, as well as in Paris and further afield. He was fairly famous in his own time, but his lasting fame has been completely overshadowed by Rodin.
Today, Villa Antonine belongs to the town of Béziers, and it is currently used by a charitable association called Les Ecluses de l’Art, whose aim is to promote contemporary art by making it accessible to a wider audience. Its purpose is to set up artistic events in order to support the creators of today and the creation of new works. Workshops, artists-in-residence and courses all help towards that goal.
The gardens of Villa Antonine are open to the public every day. You can see more details here.