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Oh, but for the joys of meandering through corridors and spaces once trodden by the greats of art, culture, music, entertainment and literature. If only the walls in these unpretentious spaces could talk!

 

What would they say of Le Nord-Pinus? 

 

Now almost mythical in its historiography, this grand hostelry which once lodged Napoleon III overnight on June 3rd 1856, is based in one of Arles’s oldest squares, La Place du Forum, still anchored deep in its Roman origins. Today, Le Nord-Pinus boasts the ghostly presence of some of the greats such as Picasso, Cocteau, Callas, Chaplin and Hemingway. The hotel just happens to be located next to the Café du Forum, outside of which Van Gogh famously painted at night, aided solely by the light of gas lamps, his now renowned ‘Terrasse du Café le Soir’, in mid-September 1888. 

My own foray to Le Nord-Pinus occurred in Autumn of 2021, centred around photography and post-pandemic creative escapism. Chasing iconic spirits in and around the locations, with Suite 10 featuring high on my wish list. This particular room overlooks the square, viewed through the beautiful fer forgé terrace railings, themselves sanctified in contemporary photographic history by Helmut Newton’s soul-stirring 1973 shoot with Charlotte Rampling in the very same suite in which famed bullfighters (like Dominguin) geared-up for a date with fate.

 

Can you hear the roar of the crowds? Do you see Rampling holding that empty wine glass exposed to Newton’s gaze, sat in front of that very same mirror, lit-up by its ornate Empire ormolu console? And those wrought iron beds, stamped with their emblematic NP! Now just imagine my excitement, like a kid in a candy store, having been granted the privilege to repeat those vivid moments in a different time and with a new visual narrative. Not in replication or duplication of the Master, but rather, to explore and to expand on the subject of ‘La Femme’, in the Now. 

 

The ‘Sublime Feminine’ and its poetic manifestation, both visual and conceptual, has been at the centre of my photographic odyssey since I first began my adventures in this art form. As to Vogue’s December 1974 issue featuring Newton’s take on Rampling, followed by a further shoot, more personal in nature and less editorially prescribed, led to her divination as the “sexiest woman of the seventies”. I balked at the idea of stepping on such hallowed ground, but given the opportunity, I could not resist; perhaps I was even subliminally attracted by both the challenge and the fear. 

 

It must be said that Le Nord-Pinus’s photographic accolades do not begin nor do they end with Newton. Peter Lindbergh often stayed at the hotel. Peter Beard and Marella Oppenheim traced Vincent Van Gogh’s footsteps in 1984, the very year Lucien Clergue set up the Rencontres d’Arles, soon to become one of the world’s leading exposes of the art of photography – if not the best. Beard was so moved by space and place that he left his personal mark with a beautiful hand-written fresco worked into the cornice of the hotel’s lobby.

 

Perhaps the last word on the mythical cultural importance of Le Nord-Pinus should be left to fashion designer Christian Lacroix who wrote: ‘Le Nord-Pinus belongs to the memory of every Arlesian… To me, back as a child, it was the temple of the quintessential summer holiday, of high society, and of course, of bullfighting. Starting from the Place du Forum but never leaving it, it was like a voyage of discovery and adventure towards Paris, Spain, the world. Images of Lucia Bose and of Dominguin in white and gold suits spring to mind, or of Cocteau and Picasso in black capes…

 

Well, you can imagine the challenges I faced under such rarefied circumstance? I’m hoping (fingers crossed) the results bear up to the commands of exaltation in my pursuit of trying to define the various angles of the Sublime Feminine, always strong and powerful, but also sensual.

 

Maryam Eisler 

Arles, August 2022

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