Rooms in bloom: the flower-filled château of a French artist

Claire Basler: ‘We live in a very visually stimulating world and yet we now spend less time actually seeing things.’

Rooms in bloom: the flower-filled château of a French artist

Claire Basler has covered the walls of many of the rooms in her ancient château with exquisite floral murals

The château of artist Claire Basler, nestled in the languid hills of central France, is filled with flowers inside and surrounded by them outside. Not only are flowers the favourite subjects of her paintings, they are her favourite décor, too, and she arranges them like installations in each room to complement the murals she paints on walls, ceilings and doors. Being inside the home she shares with her husband, Pierre Imhof, is like being inside one of her paintings – mesmerising, magical and otherworldly.

Claire’s ability to create unique and deeply moving interior environments comes, in part, from her desire to share the power of several seminal childhood experiences. When she was 12, she had an epiphany at a Gothic palace in Avignon. While other youngsters might have been tugging at their parents’ sleeves begging for early release from sightseeing at the Palais des Papes, Claire was immovable inside its 14th-century walls. Enveloped on all sides by ancient frescoes inside Pope Clement VI’s private study, the chambre du cerf, she was overcome. “I had the strong impression that I was not just looking at the painting,” she recalls, “but was part of the painting.”

French polish: a view of one of the barns and the courtyard garden.

Claire’s unique view of the world was inherited from her parents. Her father, French modernist architect Jean-Jacques Basler, and her mother, Bernadette Basler, refused to subscribe to trends of their time. Her father had a passion for wildflowers and he not only shared his interest with Claire, but taught her how to really see them. The influence of his teachings on her artwork, her home’s interiors and her outlook has been lifelong. “We live in a very visually stimulating world and yet we now spend less time actually seeing things,” she explains. “You can spend your entire life thinking that everything is going wrong, because you haven’t been taught how to properly open your eyes.”

For Claire, a simple flower has heightened meaning. Her use of flowers as subjects in her paintings and interior installations at her home offers the viewer a new way of experiencing colour, structure, form and space. She believes the words “décor” and “decorative” have been abused, leading to a demise in the appreciation of flowers as a subject in art. “A flower is not simply an element of décor – it is alive,” she explains. “Décor can be a fundamental expression of beauty, and beauty is intelligent – the motor of wisdom and understanding.”

Claire has found her heartland in the Château de Beauvoir, in the commune of Échassières in central France. She also found a great love and partner in Pierre, whom she met in 2006.

painted rooms

When Claire and Pierre bought Château de Beauvoir in 2011, it had no hot water, heating or electricity, but it did provide them with a joint project for the foreseeable future. The property seemed perfect, with rare trees and ample space for areas of soft grass and clover. There was also a glasshouse and large additional buildings, including the former stables, which would provide Claire with studios and exhibition spaces full of natural light. Pierre, a passionate builder with skills in welding, carpentry and masonry, made plans to embark on a three-year restoration of the castle.

Full of romance, the reality of life in a castle proved brutal. In October 2011, soon after moving in, the temperature dropped. Hovering between -10C and -20C for the month, it confined them to two rooms and rendered the studio unusable. The upside was that Claire felt compelled to start painting on the interior walls of the two rooms they inhabited.

outside of the castle

Now murals cover the walls of many rooms, with nature the singular theme. Claire’s belief in nature as healer, muse and protector is expressed in each work. Using paintings as the backdrop, she then installs bold floral arrangements, often using the same flowers as those depicted on the walls. Viewed in the half-light of early morning or in the dying light of a winter’s dusk, the painted and the real become one.

Much like Claire at the Palais des Papes, house guests often feel they are inside her work. The blurring of lines between outdoors and in transports visitors to a more wonderful world than our own. Claire’s dream of existing not with her paintings but inside them has been achieved, and she shares this dream with others.

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