Legend has it that back in the 6th century, a monk named Hospitus miraculously cured the ill, a mystical quality which earned a small village in the French commune of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat its name of Pointe St. Hospice. Today the scenic town is home to only sixteen villas, of which one is called Villa Cuccia-Noya.
Overlooking evergrowing lush greenery, the depths of the tranquil deep blue Mediterranean Sea and reminiscent of a late 1800s mansion, the six-bedroom home belongs to Basil Sellers, an accomplished Australian entrepreneur, sportsman and philanthropist.
An oil on canvas work called Bougainvillea of Life made in 2019/2020 by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar hangs in the downstairs entryway
The earliest residents of the home can be traced back to 1894, a couple named Luc Becchi and Eleanor Martin. In 1992, Australian businessman John Elliott sold the property to Sellers, rewarding him one of the most notable days of his life.
“I have been the owner for twenty eight wonderful years,” remarks Sellers. “Cuccia-Noya is a joy and I really love the villa. There is a serenity to the home which is hard to explain to anybody who has not stayed there.”
An avid collector of art, Sellers has adorned the villa with pieces from prestigious artists in the region and beyond. A work the owner adores is a signed mosaic sculpture by the late French artist Fernand Léger, placed by the end of the swimming pool; Sellers’ favourite spot in the home. Here, another sculpture by Léger called La Fleur qui Marche is also displayed.
An interior view of the villa featuring works by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar by the staircase
“They are situated so a swimmer in the pool can always see one or the other when swimming, that is, if they can tear their eyes off the stunning sea view,” laughs Sellers. The villa also houses works by Italian artist Piero Manzoni, American sculptor Alexander Calder, Picasso and French-Iranian multidisciplinary artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar.
Behnam-Bakhtiar’s works are prominent throughout the abode, emanating a type of vibrancy that can be seen and almost touched. “When I saw excellent photographs of Sassan’s works, I was astounded,” expresses Sellers.
“His works are full of energy and colour coordinated in a spectacular way.” Some might know him as the artist who can see energy.
Cultural consultant Julien Fossat stands with Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar. In the background: Eternal Garden by Behnam-Bakhtiar, made in 2020, 130x110cm
Rebirth, an exhibition taking place at Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat’s cultural space Villa Namouna in September this year, is set to unveil Behnam-Bakhtiar’s newest works.
The show will be held under the patronage of the Mayor of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Jean-François Dieterich, and organised by the Town Hall’s cultural department, marking the inauguration of two public sculptures which pay homage to the beauty of humanity and nature.
An interior view of a bedroom at Villa Cuccia-Noya featuring an artwork called Sunset Oneness (2019) by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar
“The sculpture he is putting up on a prominent spot on the road leading into the village will be sensational and will be a major part of the very popular Mayor of St.Jean’s vision to make the area famous for its art,” expresses Sellers.
“What an enormous amount of energy rises from Sassan’s works and the use of colour gives the feeling of emerging energy. I can see why the exhibition is called Rebirth.” A private viewing of the exhibition will be hosted inside Villa Cuccia-Noya and in the beautifully manicured gardens outside.
An oil on linen work made in 2019 by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar called Pine Trees of Life, 160x110cm. Courtesy of the artist
A total of 11 paintings by the artist were specially prepared for Sellers’ home. “When asked to prepare works for special properties such as the Villa Cuccia-Noya, I always tend to spend some time within the property and in its gardens, to better feel and take in the energy present throughout the property,” explains Behnam-Bakhtiar.
“This lets me create a bond with the energy present and create works I feel would be right for each respective space. The new paintings are all in my signature style and in-line with my vision of extending the connection of the villa to its natural surroundings.”
An interior view of the living room featuring an oil on canvas work called Blue Soul Groove by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar and a work by Joan Miró
After spending long hours in the home’s gardens in the winter’s crisp air, the artist immersed himself in the serenity and beauty which permeates throughout the space.
“I had already bonded with this ‘happy place’ - the energy was uplifting, giving a sense of positivity and balance,” he recalls. “I couldn’t help myself but to go in the same direction with my work for the villa.
Interior view of the formal room
The tall ceiling of the living room and its arch windows letting so much light in as if the sunlight is having a conversation with you, were asking for large-scale colourful works being an extension of nature within the property.” The surrounding nature and positive ambience inspired the artist to create the works, such as Eternal Garden, Trees of Life and Green Tree of Life, which is displayed by the staircase.
In the living room hangs a painting called Bougainvillea of Life, which represents peace, protection and spiritual connection. “I wanted to bring out these notions in this large-scaled work for the living room facing the sea, in a way that you have an indoor garden by the old stone fireplace,” explains Behnam-Bakhtiar. “The Bougainvillea which I have painted in the midst of a garden in front of a sunset brings out a sense of protection and security while focusing on a deep connection to nature and its energy network surrounding us at all times.”
Signed La Fleur qui Marche sculpture by the late French artist Fernand Léger placed at the end of the swimming pool
Another painting of note is Blue Soul Groove, which was inspired during a visit to the villa on a cold rainy day. “I was standing outside and the rain had just stopped with rays of light coming down between the clouds floating on top of me,” recalls the artist.
“I started seeing shapes created by water evaporating in a way that they were all dancing and going upwards towards the sky - nature’s souls having a gathering. This left such an impression on me that I had to bring it out on the canvas, which is Blue Soul Groove.” The painting hangs above a grand old piano in the living room.
An oil on canvas work above the grand piano called Blue Soul Groove by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar
Behnam-Bakhtiar has also painted two pine gardens specially for this home. They are, as he says, “symbols of wisdom and longevity - having tall, old beautiful pine trees in the villa’s gardens, I really wanted to open a window into these majestic trees inside of the villa’s walls.”
The artist was at once drawn to the gardens facing the sea and the villa’s old Spanish charm. “Once you enter the gates of the villa gardens, you feel this calming happy vibe taking over making you want to stick around.”
The picturesque home, rich with historic anecdotes, the endless beauty of nature and exquisite art, is a seaside gem to be admired from afar and close by. But what makes it truly a marvel is the energy it exudes; a sense of ethereality attainable perhaps by only this charming village and this very land; a majestic feeling which lingers long after you have left.
Photography by: Loic Thebaud
Styling by: Adeline Rizzante
Film by: Sebastien Perez
From the Summer 2020 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Interiors