The French Connection Martell & l’Artiste Bernar Venet

Martell, the oldest Cognac House and the leading French artist Bernar Venet have decided to join forces to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the company with a specially designed sculpture and a blend from 18 eaux-de-vie. Venet is one of the most celebrated French artists who has exhibited at Documenta VI and Venice Biennale. When I asked him about being influenced by Minimalism and Conceptualism, he claimed that to be
impossible because he actually started Minimalism in the 60s to abandon it a few years later moving on to Conceptual Art. All of this before hardly anybody had heard of any of these movements. Venet and Joseph Kosuth are considered the fathers of Conceptualism.

Jean Martell, an Englishman born in Jersey, founded his own trading business in the French city of Cognac, on the banks of the river Charente, in 1715 becoming the number one in England and already exporting to Asia in the 1800s. Using Jean Martell’s original correspondence, Benoît Fil, the Cellar Master, and Géraldine Galland, Martell’s House Archivist, pieced together a map of his key suppliers from 1735–1742, and began to retrace his footsteps 300 years on. Visiting winegrowers just as he did generations before him, Fil, sampled eaux-de-vie and met with the winegrowing families whose ancestors had originally supplied the brand’s founder. It was surprising that the quality has remained the same over so many centuries.
Fil commented:

“The desire was to create a blend that reflected the journey and history of Jean Martell. We had access in our archives to the exact geographical locations that he went to. Therefore, we were able to visit the descendants of these winegrowers who today create the best quality eaux-de-vie. Martell Premier Voyage, meaning first trip, takes the best things from the past of Cognac and Jean Martell’s vision, and makes them something that we can enjoy today. This new blend truly captures three centuries of Martell turning cognac into art.”
Indeterminate Line by Bernar Venet. Courtesy the artist.

Venet is perhaps better known for his big scale public art installations. Drawings on the space using metal rather than a pencil as a consequence of complex mathematical calculations. At some point his works seem to frame the landscape they are in to then return the viewers’ attention back to his sculptures; like a child pointing at a building to then pulling your hand firmly and regaining the centre of attention. Venet exhibited radical
minimal work in the 60s to an audience in Paris that were not ready for such a big jump in contemporary art. When he moved to New York and saw the works at the Whitney Museum that by the minimalist artists such as: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Richard Serra; he felt at home and vindicated. It was a confirmation that he was in the right direction. However when invited to a group show at the Brooklyn Museum in New York in 1968, Venet exhibited language-based work and initiated Conceptual Art at the same time as other artists such as Joseph Kosuth.

Sculpture and decanter designed by Bernar Venet for Martell Premier Voyage. Courtesy the artist, Martell and the photographer, Tristan Fewings (Getty images)

Venet, creator of the Martell Premier Voyage decanter said of the collaboration:

“It was a pleasure to work with a house with such history, such passion and such vision. I am proud to be associated with a brand with a heritage as strong as Martell’s. I was inspired by the date 1715, as the year that Louis XIV died and this great cognac house was born. I have in the past created a sculpture around a statue of Louis XIV, and I wanted a sense of continuity with my work. The arches in the work represent this continuity, and a sense of time. The three arc clusters represent the three centuries that we are celebrating. There are so many parallels between Versailles, the birthplace of Art De Vivre, and Martell and with what I do.”

For more information about Martell Premier Voyage and its archive, please visit

For more information about Bernar Venet, please visit his website on