I can't believe that it's back in 2010 that we first unveiled the mystery of Katherine Corbett's painting by Susanna Linhart. Over the months, we had talked to Susanna on the phone and corresponded by email with her partner, Andrew. They had invited us to visit them at their house in the South of France. We had looked at the possibility of driving over from Montséret on our next holiday, but when we checked it on the map, it was too long a journey, so we had parked the idea at the back of our minds. Then, towards the end of last year, we were looking at inter-railing around Italy and the South of France. When we worked out that we were trying to cover too much ground in too short a time (and with too little luggage from my female perspective), we thought of reducing the trip to a more manageable one week on the French Riviera. Visiting Susanna then became a pivotal element of this adventure.
Susanna and Andrew live in a remote location in the Massif des Maures, but we found that the train from Nice goes as far as Les Arcs, which is about half an hour's drive from their house. Andrew was happy to pick us up from there, so we booked our flights and hotels and planned our holiday.
There were more passengers who got off at Les Arcs than we had anticipated, but we found Andrew easily, as he was waiting for us on the platform (we had not thought to exchange photographs!). Andrew then drove us along the twisty scenic road (though it has to be said that the main road is just as twisty, but busier!), through forests of cork oaks and chestnuts, small hamlets, and along sheer precipices without a single crash barrier. I was glad to be sitting behind Andrew, where I could not see how long our fall would be if the car ever left the road!
Susanna was waiting for us at the house, and it was like meeting with a long-lost friend. We sat out on the porch for a while, but the clouds started bubbling up and the sun soon went in. Andrew lit a fire inside and we had our lunch in their beautiful house, a labour of love entirely made habitable by Susanna who purchased it when it was a wreck about 20 years ago. It had not been lived in for a hundred years when she acquired it. She showed us the pictures - I can see how everybody thought it would be impossible to make a home out of those 4 walls. But Susanna loved the spot and the view, and has transformed it into a lovely home.
While Andrew enjoys making paths through the mountainous terrain, Susanna looks after the garden, cooks and paints. Our lunch, to my delight, included rabbit, delicious with plenty of garlic, nothing like the scrawny mustard rabbit I was served on the beachfront between St Raphael and Fréjus, but succulent, tender, tasty, and accompanied by chard (blette in French), a vegetable I don't think I had ever eaten before - I don't think they sell it in Irish supermarkets!
After a lovely fruit salad, we took a walk around the terraced gardens, admiring Fishy, Susanna's 17-year old carp, who lives in a big tank beside the vegetable garden and happily eats bread from Susanna's hand, all the while being followed by their black cat, who was curious about us, but too shy to come close.
Susanna also showed us the storage room for her many paintings, her studio and her collection of watercolours. She is a prolific artist, she paints every day, mostly in oils, sometimes with collage elements blended in. Her paintings are large, often one meter square. She paints the world around her, the trees in the woods around the house, cut flowers, fruit - I even saw a painting of asparagus in exactly the same dish as the one she used to serve our asparagus starter at lunch! Her choice of colour is very delicate - you could almost say white on white - but somehow she manages to give her work depth and interest. She has many of her own work hanging on the walls of her house, and, despite their size, they are not oppressive or overpowering, but yet, they are very present, they cannot be ignored. No wonder she has sold many of her paintings around the world. Her watercolours are quite different - more realistic, brighter, bolder colours - I found them beautiful too.
We chatted all along, discovering more about each other's lives, which we knew nothing about, apart from a painting done a long time ago, in a beauty salon in London. In 2010, when we were given Katherine Corbett's painting, S. Linhart was just a cryptic signature. BB's cousin had told us it had been painted by an artist of some renown, but they knew nothing more. Now we have a friend.
PS: If you're interested in purchasing any of Susanna's art, let me know and I will put you in touch.