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Artist Captures Changing Face Of Canal Du Midi


2016 marks the 350th anniversary of the start of a project to create the “Canal du Midi” which is now a world heritage site, as well as one of France’s most important inland waterways.  In 1666, after 30 years of planning, work began to join the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean sea via the Canal.

The Canal du Midi was considered at the time to be one of the greatest construction works of the 17th century, and is one of the oldest canals of Europe still in operation.  Within its 241km, canal barges gently meander through locks, tunnels, vineyards and trees, giving passengers an idyllic and relaxing view of the sunny South of France.

Canal-du-midi, trees marked for cutting

The quintessential image of French life in the “slow lane” usually includes giant plane trees casting much needed shade over the ground below.  Along the Canal du Midi, this has been no different, until tragically it was discovered that a disease, apparently brought over by wooden ammo boxes during WWII from the USA, had infected these magnificent living statues, and they would need to be destroyed. The technical side of this microscopic fungus meant that chemical or biological warfare were not going to work, so the decision was taken to start cutting them down and begin a process of replanting. In the picture above, the trees marked in orange are due to be cut.

In 2006, Libby Page, a sculptor and painter in oils, relocated from Bath, England to a small village in the Aude (Languedoc) with the intention of tackling a property development project.  Libby is highly creative, and property development is by no means her only talent.

Living amongst the wild and beautiful landscapes of Languedoc, the endless expanses of vineyards, ever changing colours, incredible skies and meandering Canal, Libby started developing her own project of a very different kind: “Project Pigasse”.


Pigasse is a point on the Canal about 20km from Narbonne several kilometres from any town or village (above).  The majority of canal tourists would not notice Pigasse as they pass under the Plane trees with their glass of rosé in hand.  It’s where a tiny bridge crosses the Canal, heavily shaded by some of the most magnificent trees on the Canal du Midi. Known by many ‘bargies’ as a local Green Cathedral (Cathedrale Verte), the Plane trees on this section of the canal reach well over 30m into the air, leaning gently towards each other.  In her quest to capture the true essence of the Canal in her paintings, Libby has cruised and walked beneath the Green Cathedral many times, and simply describes it as “one of the most peaceful places on Earth”.

Libby is drawn to nature, structure and colour, but trees in particular.  Inspired by artists such as David Hockney, her own style is bold and striking.  Within the layers of oil on a huge canvas there lies a painting within a painting – and a secret code, known only to her, that tells a different story altogether.

There are many people documenting the story of how this man made yet natural landmark has changed and will continue to change.  “Project Pigasse” is a remarkable and slow documentary of the destruction of the plane trees over the past 5 years from the artist’s perspective.  Libby’s paintings of the Canal around Pigasse feature vibrant colour changes, and near-architectural reflections of the trees she loves. The replanting is underway, and the young saplings are thickening up and already reaching for the sky.


For Libby’s part, she is now globally recognised as an Ambassador for the Canal du Midi and her work can be found in collections around the world. Perhaps in a few decades, Libby’s oeuvre of Pigasse will be considered one of the most emotional and in many ways, accurate account of the demise and rebirth of this aspect of the canal.Now living in the beautiful Roman city of Narbonne, Libby has works featured in a city centre gallery (Vue Sur Cours) and a diary full of exhibitions in Languedoc later in the year.  Currently working on several commissions, 2016 sees an exciting change to the format of her work, which, we are told, remains a closely guarded secret at this point!


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