Before mass tourism became a thing to be experienced cheek by jowl with thousands of other sweaty, put-upon globetrotters, all hell-bent on updating their Facebook status with the view from the Eiffel Tower or the Pyramid of Giza, there was something called the Grand Tour. I imagine this Victorian mode of travel as a halcyon interlude of gentlemanly and ladylike pursuits, leisurely engagement with the eerily silent wonders of the world and frequent pauses so the discerning traveller could set up a small painter’s stool and easel in front of a charming ruin in order to record the scenery for posterity in fetching watercolour.

Liu Xiadong
Liu Xiadong

Perhaps this idea of slow travel is what counts for real luxury in our over-processed instagrammable era. It’s certainly the spirit that informs the Louis Vuitton Travel Book collection. Each beautifully crafted book focuses on an individual city or country and is illustrated by an artist from a different part of the world to the one in the book.

Each book becomes the cultured pause where the artist’s eye explores and reinterprets both familiar and unfamiliar landscapes, so the reader experiences them anew. The latest offerings are Paris as observed by Belgian graphic novels author Brecht Evens, and SA as seen by feted Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong, who immersed himself in the LV version of the South African Grand Tour.

Liu’s technique for this project involved painting as well as painting over photgraphs while positioning himself in the scenery, which seems eminently suited to exactly this kind of travelogue. The professor of the Academy of Social Realism says that “the significance of travelling allows you to know things that you didn’t know before, and to kind of readjust your perception of things”.

It is the kind of readjustment that even seasoned South Africans will experience by witnessing his perceptions of SA. “It is very peaceful. Which is ironic because I thought it was going to be very chaotic. In Durban, the population was quite small, the natural light is great, everyone is happy.” See what I mean? He continues: “Especially when I got to the national parks – it was even more peaceful. In China, all the animals I’d seen were in a zoo, which is a very chaotic place, especially a zoo in China. It’s so peaceful here and the animals are so peaceful here.”

A limited edition of 30 copies, numbered and signed by the artist, is available in selected Louis Vuitton stores. It is a work of art in itself as the limited edition contains an original lithograph by Liu and the slip case and leather binding are hand-crafted at the Opus Manu Factum workshop in Padua, Italy.

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