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The French Riviera has attracted and inspired everyone from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to celebrated writers and painters like Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nice-based contributor Lane Nieset takes us museum hopping through places where these artistic greats lived and worked.
If you visit the French Riviera, you’ll undoubtedly find a cultural reference to a literary or artistic figure—usually one of the masters. The area has been a source of refuge and inspiration thanks to its varied landscape of mountains, rolling hills and seaside cliffs plunging into the Mediterranean.
Simply by taking a stroll through these towns, you’ll come across 90 lecterns with replicas of landscape paintings, all placed in the exact spot where the artist had painted on their own easel, so you can see how a place inspired Claude Monet or Jean Cocteau.
In the hillside neighborhood of Cimiez lies the Henri Matisse Museum (free to the public), housed in a 17th century villa located next to the Franciscan monastery, Gallo-Roman ruins, and Italianate rose gardens.
Matisse discovered Nice when he was 48 years old, falling in love with the light and sea, and stayed in the area for 27 years, living in various parts of town, including the hotel Régina, located just across from the museum and Park of Cimiez. Matisse’s tomb can even be found at the cemetery in Cimiez outside of the Franciscan monastery.
If you stand in the Cours Saleya, where the flower and food markets are held, you will see a faded yellow building at the end of the square below Castle Hill at Place Charles-Félix. Matisse once lived and worked on the first, third and, finally, fourth floor of this apartment—with his last apartment looking over the Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels).
Touring the Matisse Museum, you’ll see the influence the region had on the artist, starting in 1890 with his early Impressionist and Fauvist paintings, moving through the different stages of his work to his later gouaches cut-outs like Icare (1942) and La Vague (1952).
From now through Sept. 29, the museum is hosting an exhibit focusing on Matisse’s “Nice period,” titled “Nice, the Dream & the Odalisque,” which started during the artist’s time living at Place Charles Félix.
Tips for visiting Musée Matisse. The museum is one of the major attractions in Nice, so weekends can be particularly busy at the museum and park. It’s open all week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for Tuesdays and can be reached on the number 15, 17, 20, 22 or 25 bus (1.50 Euro or $2 for a one-way ticket) getting off at the Les Arènes/musée Matisse stop.
Near the Matisse Museum, you can also find Musée Chagall, home to the largest public collection of Chagall’s work. From 1966 to 1985, Chagall lived in the medieval hilltop village of Saint-Paul de Vence, about an hour bus ride (bus number 400) from Nice. Walking through this town, you’ll find the landscape that inspired the artist’s paintings and mosaics.
Venture up to Saint-Paul de Vence and stroll through the cobblestone streets lined with galleries, stopping by places the artist frequented during his time there, like La Colombe d’Or, where he would be seen with other artists like Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
The museum Fondation Maeght also features the artist’s work—as well as pieces by Léger, Calder and others—and is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an exhibit running through November 11 with 100 masterpieces, including those by Braque, César, Miró and, of course, Chagall.
Back in Nice, walk through the artist’s work at the museum named for him with 17 pieces from sculptures to stained-glass windows all focusing on the theme of the Bible. The museum is currently showcasing Chagall’s panorama painting La Vie (1964), on loan from the Fondation Maeght, and other pieces and work relating to La Vie from now through October 6.
Tips for visiting Musée Chagall. To reach the museum, take bus number 22 or 15 to the Musée Chagall stop. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. except for Tuesdays and costs 8 Euro ($11). Unlike most museums in Nice, the national museums charge an entrance fee, except on the first Sunday of the month.
Have you experienced these museums or villages in the French Riviera? What are some of your other favorite spots for art and culture in the region?