“La Petite Escalère was a fluke” writes Dominique Haim, daughter of art-dealer Paul Haim, “an extraordinary and beautiful adventure that lasted half a century…”
At the end of the 1960s Paul Haim’s wife Jeannette Leroy bought a farmhouse called « La Petite Escalère » in Saint Laurent de Gosse, on the Basque coast. Jeanette Leroy had decided to give up her career as a fashion photographer and dedicate herself to figurative drawing. The couple began to spend more and more time at La Petite Escalère, and over the next few years acquired 8 hectares of forest and meadows surrounding the farmhouse.
Paul Haim was by this time a well-known art dealer. In his Paris galeries he showed Klee, Kandinsky, Picasso, Wols, Fautrier, Klein, Cárdenas, Étienne-Martin, Metcalf, Wols, Domoto…
Haim met a multitude of artists, some of whom became friends, and in the 1970s organized an exhibition of sculpture in Japan. He was able to buy some of the pieces – which were promptly installed in the garden of La Petite Escalère – marking the beginning of a burgeoning collection.
The garden was planted so that the sculptures were partly hidden; they were to interact with their surroundings. The leaf of an oak would become indistinguishable from one of Matta’s bronze trees; one of Oteiza’s structures would find its place in one of the large meadows…
The idea was that it was nature which should dominate.
Why, after all, should a simple rose not move us as much as one of Calder’s mobiles or one of Augustin Carden’s sculptures ?
Jeannette Leroy was particularly attached to the idea of the sculptures disappearing in nature and when each new sculpture arrived, she would immediately set to work planting massively. Very soon, the couple felt the need to engage a gardener, and began to work with Gilbert Carty.
Carty worked with Paul and Jeannette to provide an appropriate setting for the sculpture.
Railway sleepers form a path through the middle of a bamboo grove, a vegetable garden and undergrowth, before bringing the visitor face to face with an example of the most important sculptural artists of the 20th century.
Paul Haim’s daughter, Dominique Haim, took over the garden after her father’s death, but was sadly forced to close it recently after repeated flooding risked damaging the artworks.