“The creative spark”

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The Valenciennes area has always stood out for its abundant talent. Without a doubt, this is an area synonymous with artistic output and initiative.


Valenciennes' history offers some explanation for these artistic leanings. The town, which even minted its own currency back in the days of Charles the Bald (circa 870), used its wealth to promote the training and establishment of painters, sculptors, silver and goldsmiths or leading tapestry makers, given the task of bringing an added decorative touch to the area’s comfortable dwellings. A long-standing pride in this workmanship took root here. From the 13th century onwards, Valenciennes’ middle classes delighted in owning the finest items which could be produced at the time and offered artistic gifts to their princes. The trade which underpinned the growing wealth of the city gave rise to a unique culture among its inhabitants, one that was very demanding but also open-minded and which appears to be the main reason behind this frequently expressed capacity to imagine, to create, to discover, to find solutions, to endure the trials and tribulations of history and to come back stronger each time.


In both painting and sculpture, Valenciennes and its region stand out for having produced leaders of artistic schools or great renovators including among others André Beauneveu in the 14th century, Antoine Watteau in the 18th-century and Jean Baptiste Carpeaux in the 19th century.

Its School of Fine Art has produced the largest number of Prix de Rome winners in France. When we consider both first and second prizes together, these number 48 in all including 21 Premiers Grands Prix from 1737 to 1948. (1)

In many other fields, throughout the ages we find a legion of artists who have clearly shown what this creative region can achieve, including Josquin des Prez and Claude le Jeune (talented musicians from the Renaissance), La Clairon (an 18th-century tragic actress who innovated in the portrayal of tragic roles, and initiated the cloakroom reform at the Comédie-Française), or Jean Mineur (inventor of the radio news and cinema advertising).


Among the manufactured goods in the Valenciennes area, the one which has made it most famous is lace. This contributed to the growth of the city in the 17th and 18th centuries, before the first French coal mining companies began the first trials of new machinery and techniques in the Valenciennes region, which would lead to the discovery of coal for the first time in France in 1721 at Fresnes-sur-Escaut. And then there are also the more original products such as that of chicory, for which France's first factory was opened at Onnaing in 1778. The impressive rise of the chicory processing industry once again demonstrates the region's pioneering spirit and its flair for innovation and enterprise. Charles Giraud innovated to improve the drying process and had the ingenious idea of cutting the roots into small pieces (chips) and using the kiln at his malting plant. Nicolas Algave, another pioneer from the Valenciennes area, was the first to use and adapt a mechanical seeder for chicory growing.


Even today, the Valenciennes area is proud of this tradition of innovation and creativity with its world-famous competitive clusters focused on the digital sector, design, logistics and the ITRANS land transport cluster.


(1) (Jacques Saly, Aimé Milhomme, Abel de Pujol, Henri Lemaire, Gustave Crauk, J.-B. Carpeaux, Edmond Guillaume, Constant Moyaux, Ernest Hiolle, Léon Fagel, Alphonse Terroir, P.-V. Dautel, Louis Busière, Raymond Pech, Lucien Brasseur, Aimé Blaise, René Mirland, André Sallé, J.-H. Lengrand, Paul Lamagny and Jules France).

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