From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Lacoste is a small, medieval town and commune in the Provence in Southern France. It belongs to the Vaucluse département and has some 400 permanent residents, doubling in size during the height of summer tourist season.
Lacoste is a picturesque old mountain village overlooking the village of Bonnieux and the Grand Luberon Mountains to the east, and flanked by Mont Ventoux to the north, and the Petit Luberon to the south. The vernacular architecture and cobblestone streets give the impression of a village where time has stood still. The oldest building in the town, the Maison Forte, dates back to the 9th century while the nearby Pont Julien remains one of the oldest standing examples of a working 1st century B.C. Roman bridge.
Lacoste is best known for its most notorious resident, Donatien Alphonse Francois comte de Sade, the Marquis de Sade, who in the 18th century lived in the castle overlooking the village. Following a series of incidents involving local women and the police, the Marquis fled the country but was eventually imprisoned. His castle was partially destroyed in an uprising in 1779 and was later looted and plundered by locals.
During the first half of the 19th century the village saw a brief time of agricultural and economic prosperity from the Roman limestone quarries, but soon hit a slump in the second half of the century and a large portion of the upper village of Lacoste fell into disrepair and ruins.
During World War II, the French Resistance took their foothold in the steep Luberon Mountains around Lacoste, and trenches and barbed wire still exist in the forested area in the valley, where resistance fighters prepared to square off with German troops.
The Marquis fancied Lacoste as a destination for thespians, which has in some small part become true. In the 1990s, the ruins of the castle, along with an attached quarry, were bought by fashion designer Pierre Cardin, and since 1994 musical and theatrical works have been performed there. Cardin founded L'Espace Cardin in the village of Lacoste as his business and ticketing office, and renovated the quarry into a massive outdoor performance area and stage. Annually, Cardin's festival draws throusands during the month of July for world-class opera, theater, and music set in the quarried stage and coinciding with the Festival d'Avignon, the renowned summer theater and performance festival in the nearby city of Avignon.
Adding to the town's reputation as an artistic haven, The Lacoste School of the Arts was founded in Lacoste in 1970 by American art professor and painter, Bernard Pfriem. Under Pfriem's direction, notable artists came to Lacoste to teach and be inspired by the peace and tranquility of the rural environment, including Benny Andrews, Denis Brihat, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Douglas Duncan, Nene Humphrey, Gjon Mili, and Jean-Pierre Sudre, among others. The expatriate American poet, Gustaf Sobin, often taught poetry to students at The Lacoste School of the Arts. Though Pfriem and Sobin's leadership, the school emerged to become one of the most respected art programs in France.
Sarah Lawrence College, the Cleveland Institute of Art, and Bard College traded ownership of the school before the Savannah College of Art and Design took control in 2002. Today the Savannah College of Art and Design hosts four quarters of classes for art students and professors from all corners of the globe, studying fine arts, architecture, design, fashion, film, photography, sculpture, and theater, to name a few of the subjects. The 30+year history of the Lacoste School of the Arts has helped to infuse a multicultural and worldly artistic sense to the village.