Touring the French Riviera With Matisse
15 February, 2016
The French Riviera was a sanctuary and source of inspiration for many artists in the first half of the 20th century. Seduced by its light, and also its good climate and the magic of the Mediterranean, they succumbed to its charm. One of these was Henri Matisse, who arrived in Nice in 1917 seeking a cure for his bronchitis and remained there until his death in 1954. It was in Nice that he found the peace of mind and the light that would accompany him throughout his mature art period. He also used to visit other artists in the area who, like him, had moved their studio to this spot on the calm waters of the Mediterranean, whether in Nice itself or in neighbouring villages. Here, then, is a tour which retraces the footsteps of that fantastic artist of the Côte d’Azur.
Roman in origin and the region’s nerve centre, you would be hard pressed not to be enthralled by the charms of Nice. It is a pleasure in itself to just stroll along the streets in the old quarter in search of the Cours Saleya, a bustling square and site of both the popular flower market and the fruit and vegetable market. If you also take the chance to taste some of the local culinary specialities in one of the magnificent eateries in the area, a rewarding experience is guaranteed. Above all, make sure you try socca, a grilled chickpea-flour pasty, the perfect snack for a long sightseeing day.
The Promenade des Anglais is another of Nice’s popular landmarks. This elegant seaside promenade with its stylish period hotels and iconic palm trees inevitably transports you to a bygone era, a time when the first tourists started to frequent the city.
Matisse eventually took up permanent residence and set up his studio in the classy, aristocratic Cimiez Quarter after trying out other areas in the city. This quarter is home to the Matisse Museum, housed in a 17th-century villa, where visitors can delight in the artworks donated to the city by both Matisse himself and his heirs. Nearby is the Hotel Regina, where he actually lived during much of his stay in Nice. And, not far from there is the spot where he was buried, the cemetery of the Monastery Of Our Lady Of Cimiez.
This medieval village overlooking the Mediterranean is possibly one of the most picturesque in France, with the permission of Mont Saint Michel and Vézelay. Perched on a hilltop and ringed by a fortified wall, it preserves all the charm of the period when it was built. When strolling through its streets lined with old stone houses, it becomes clear how Matisse must have been captivated by its magic. But, he was not alone in falling prey to its allure, as so too did Picasso, Chagall, Renoir, Miró, Yves Montand and Cocteau. The passage of so many artists through the village led to a good number of art galleries springing up in its narrow streets. The finishing touch to any visit here is provided by the Maeght Foundation which houses one of the finest collections of 20th-century art, that of Marguerite and Aimé Maeght. The building, which was designed by the Spanish architect, Josep Lluís Sert, houses works by Pierre Bonnard, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Alberto Giacometti, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky and Raoul Ubac, among others.
Matisse arrived in Vence in 1941, during one of the worst moments of World War II. Apart from sanctuary, he was seeking a place to heal, as he was ill. It was here that he found the right spot to recuperate, as well as inspiration. His stay in this small town yielded the creation of the Chapel of the Rosary, also known as the “Matisse Chapel”, where the artist once stated: “Despite all its imperfections, I regard this as my masterpiece”. Here, Matisse took charge of the whole project as he designed the building, the stained glass windows, the wall decoration, the furniture and even the liturgical accoutrements.
Auguste Renoir spent the last few years of his life in this coastal town. He settled in the villa known as Les Collettes, now converted into the Renoir Museum, where Matisse visited him on several occasions and learned from the Impressionist master how to perceive the colours of the “Midi”. Among the standout features of this small town on the French Riviera is Haut-de-Cagnes, a quarter listed as a historic interest site, where the most prominent landmark is Grimaldi Castle.
As Matisse said: “Most people come here for the light. Being from the north, what attracted me were the radiant colours and the luminosity of daylight”. Now it’s your turn to discover it, so get your Vueling and let yourself be inspired.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
15 February, 2016