The Wick - Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Paris, le 13 février 2012 The Wick - Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre. Paris, le 13 février 2012
Monday Muse

Interview Philanthropist Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre

Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
11 July 2022
Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre
11 July 2022
For more than a decade Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre and her husband, Jean-François, have been helping to make education accessible to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As well as enabling new opportunities in education and culture through their own Foundation, Marie-Laure has increased her involvement in a number of artistic institutions – she was invited to join the private circle Vivre en Couleurs, launched by the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, as well as the international committee of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the commissioning committee of the Hayward Gallery in London.

In 2015, she also founded Spirit Now London, a nonprofit association whose funds are distributed to cultural institutions to support emerging artists and exhibitions in France or the UK. This private community of collectors, friends and patrons connects members with exceptional figures from the world of art, design, culture and science.

THE WICK:   Talk us through your typical Monday.

Marie-Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre:   On Monday morning, I get up with all the energy in the world and also a little apprehensive about the weight of the coming week. Like many women, you have to juggle demanding work, organising the schedules of children or teenagers and organising family life. I usually fast, having just tea, and then I start with an hour of Pilates. Then, all the appointments are back to back, from the point with my assistant for Spirit Now London or the Foundation, to lunches with gallerists or cultural institutions in London to prepare the programme I curated for my community of collectors. I often take taxis to have time to phone or send my emails.

It’s a crucial day with little time for reading or leisure but, as my husband always reminds me, you have to find a moment every day to do something, even just 10 minutes to really have fun. It can be discovering a new artist or ceramist or a beautiful piece of design because I am finishing my house in Ramatuelle, in the south of France, and I am always looking for rare gems. I also love spotting young artists not yet known but who will one day be able to take off. Monday is therefore divided between action and reflection and research at the end of the day.

In the evening I have dinner with my children and they tell me about their day at the French school in London – my husband and I are attached to French culture that we want to pass on to them. Through their stories I learn so much about the new trends in our society and the concerns of young people. It’s my favourite time of the day when everything shuts down and I’m home. I try to avoid bringing my computer or my phone with me: this is my new decision for this year.

TW:   You founded the ML and JF de Clermont-Tonnerre Foundation in 2009, which endows schools and universities all over the world, funding different programmes and scholarships and also supports the chairs of cognitive psychology and biodiversity and ecosystem of the Collège de France. What are your goals for the Foundation?

MCT:   Our Foundation aims to facilitate access to education, particularly for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as stimulate creation to be disseminated to as many people as possible. That’s the Foundation’s purpose: to help them pursue their dreams. Education yields independence and autonomy: it makes everything possible. My husband and I support around 15 projects, all operating in innovative fields, be they of an artistic, environmental or scientific nature. Supporting research and the social impact it leads to is also one of the pillars of our commitment.

TW:   Spirit Now London largely relies on in-person events. In a post-Covid world with less human connection, what is your advice to members’ clubs looking to build and develop communities?

MCT:   First of all, Spirit Now London is an international community of passionate patrons, collectors and friends in the cultural world, with a clear identity and a strong philanthropic mission. It is a nonprofit organisation with all funds donated to cultural institutions and the support of young artists. We are also aiming to develop the Spirit of Giving around new projects this year. Over the last years, we have supported Hayward Gallery, Palais de Tokyo, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Barbican, the Chisenhale to quote some. We also aim to promote and support the young artists and designers of tomorrow. Our community is precious to us and we are sharing unique and stimulating moments together around the creations.

The network is essential, as much as living together our shared passion for art and culture. Therefore, the human factor is the basic ingredient. We care about our members, and we are very proud of the potential enshrined within our community, which is very active. We are all friends, or friends of friends, that we have known for up to some decades. Our members are not just collectors, and it is not all about mere events they attend. We encourage them to engage with the artists and personalities that we invite to share their exhibitions, inspiration and creativity with us. We select projects and institutions that we find interesting, as behind every one of them, there are always personalities we want to follow. The second crucial element is quality, which acts as a “bonding agent”. It is the quality of the exclusive events we select, as well as the outstanding and varied profiles of our members. We are always committed to supporting each of them in their initiatives, creativity and projects.

TW:   You’re an avid supporter of the London art scene. Post-Brexit, how do you think London will be able to maintain its status as a leading art capital?

MCT:   Never had cultural institutions needed more private groups or philanthropic associations to sustain them. Brexit has caused relevant changes. Even though London remains an influential capital, the new policies have created room for growth in other European centres. For instance, many interesting projects are taking place in Paris, which is still an unmissable cultural hub. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that Brexit, the pandemic and the current war in Ukraine have created a new “socio-cultural” layout where local talents are more valued. For instance, Ralph Rugoff at Hayward Gallery curated the exhibition Mixing It Up, featuring creations of artists based in the UK. Due to Covid and Brexit, he could not have artworks delivered from abroad; logistics are still highly complicated due to the new border regulations. Lastly, another learned lesson is the importance of the internet and virtual platforms, which help us better connect flexibly, with no need to travel. Ecology and sustainability are subjects that matter to me; by leveraging them we could strongly reduce the carbon footprint, as well as keep the global art community even closer.

“Education yields independence and autonomy: it makes everything possible.”

Marie-Laure de Clemont-Tonnerre

TW:   What are the must-see exhibitions in the UK and France right now?

MCT:   In France, a must-go institution is the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain in Paris, which I am very close to. At the moment, they are displaying the first major solo survey exhibition of Aboriginal artist Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori outside Australia. I think it is an ummisable appointment for the summer.

Likewise, if one visits the south of France, Saint Paul de Vence is a must for any art lover, as it features some remarkable art foundations. The Maeght Foundation is currently showcasing At The Hearth of Abstraction, featuring artworks from the Fondation Gandur pour l’Art. Another must-visit is the Hartung-Bergman Foundation, which Spirit Now London heard about last April, meeting the director Thomas Schlesser for the retrospective held at Waddington Custot. Furthermore, the CAB Foundation is a real gem, currently displaying the Belgian minimalist artist Ann Veronica Janssens. The director Hubert Bonnet is a close friend, and he created this very interesting building collaborating with the French designer Charles Zana.

Speaking of the UK, the usual summer appointment is at the Serpentine, to visit the summer pavilion – this year, it’s the monumental “Black Chapel” by Theaster Gates. Moreover, Spirit Now London is close to the Barbican and financially supporting the work of curator Eleanor Nairne. The show “Our Time on Earth” is now on; it is focused on ecology and sustainability, which is a subject that strongly matters to me. Cornelia Parker’s retrospective at Tate is another focal point of the cultural programme in London. We had the opportunity to meet the artist for a private viewing at Frith Street Gallery; her creative process, as well as the way to manipulate and reinterpret materials, is deeply fascinating. Lastly, should one wish to take a day trip to the lovely English countryside, the Charleston Trust is the place. It used to be the house-studio of artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. Today it is a cultural centre, hosting contemporary exhibitions including Absent Artist, which features a selection of work from the extraordinary collection of Katrin Bellinger, a dear friend of our community.

TW:   What’s your favourite culturally curious spot in London?

MCT:   When I moved to London seven year ago, an institution that really surprised me was Leighton House. It is a museum that used to be the home of painter Frederic Leighton, built by George Aitchison as a home-studio. I remember being mesmerised by the juxtaposition of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and the oriental style of the interior decorations.

Today, after many years, London is home to me. One of the cultural centres I am mostly fond of is the Hayward Gallery. I really love its programme and the curatorial approach of the director, Ralph Rugoff. One of the best exhibitions I saw there was Louise Bourgeois’ retrospective on her last working year, which was outstanding. I am also lucky enough to be part of its Commissioning Committee. Spirit Now London is very close to this institution and financially supports some of its projects, such as Jyll Bradley’s interactive installation “The Hop”, currently displayed at the Southbank Centre.

TW:   Having been a collector for many years, what are your thoughts on NFT art? Have you collected any, and if not, why?

MCT:   I don’t collect NFT in particular but I’m interested in the concept and in the questions it is raising. In a work of art, or within the artist, I always look for the creative process. Jean-François and I are interested in creation and innovation. That’s why our Foundation supports the Voight-Kampff project designed by neuroscientist Adam Kampf, of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in London and its artistic developments. This project promotes a more humane future for technology in a screen-free world. An immersive demo space will soon be inaugurated and host collaborative projects with artists.

TW:   When visiting art fairs and exhibitions, what are your top three fashion designers and go to’s?

MCT:   I have recently discovered the Kazakistani art designer Aigana Gali. She fashions unique items based on the client’s personality, adding shapes and symbols from her central-Asian heritage. Her creations are extraordinary, on the threshold between art and design. Another designer I admire is Cora Sheibani. She has a rare talent, and her vivid and colourful inspiration for jewellery comes from contemporary art as well as from her daily life in London. Her creations are irresistible. Next autumn, Spirit Now London will also visit the studio of Catalina Swinburn. We discovered her when visiting The Eye of The Collector fair. She masters the use of paper as a fabric, creating authentic works of art.

TW:   Which artwork and book would you need if stranded on a remote island?

MCT:   The book I would pick is A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women: Essays on Art, Sex, and the Mind by the American author Siri Hustvedt. It is a captivating text, as it reads the position of women in art. Belittled or put on a same level, the author explores these dynamics with a combination of approaches, psychological, scientifical, and philosophical, owing to her studies and her rich academic background. The work I choose is a “Head” or a “Bird” by Constantin Brancusi, because his art is fascinating and timeless.

TW:   Finally, who would be your ultimate Monday Muse?

MCT:   Misia Sert was a great philanthropist and muse of the early 20th century. She helped Diaghilev and his ballets a lot, but also supported poets and musicians. She reigned over the Paris of the Roaring Twenties and it was Coco Chanel, her great friend, who prepared her for her last trip to her deathbed. And each member of my Spirit Now London community because they all inspire me.

Share story
Further Information
The Wick - Elizabeth Dellert
Monday Muse

Interview Cromwell Place's Elizabeth Dellert

The Wick - Melissa Odabash
Monday Muse

Interview Fashion Designer Melissa Odabash

The Wick - Isabella von Ribbentrop
Monday Muse

Interview Isabelle von Ribbentrop, the Executive Director of Prix Pictet 

Visual Arts
The Wick - Maria Sukkar
Monday Muse

Interview Collector Maria Sukkar

Visual Arts
The Wick - Priya Khanchandani - Icon Minds - The Future of Transport - Photography
Monday Muse

Interview The Design Museum’s Priya Khanchandani

The Wick - Alison Wilding
Monday Muse

Interview Sculptor and Summer Exhibition Coordinator Alison Wilding