” When I realised I would see that light every morning, I could not believe my happiness … I decided never to leave Nice and remained here for my almost my entire existence”.
Henri MATISSE I didn’t realise just how significant this part of the world was in so many prominent artists’ lives. I knew they’d spent some time here, but being here – in this light, seeing the clear colours, the blue, the vegetation, and just how the light hits the landscape added a depth of connection to their works for me. For example, I guess I had mostly thought of the impressionists as colleagues in Paris breaking away from the Academy. But that was only the beginning. Most of them moved away, a lot to this part of the world where they lived and created for years evolving their own distinct styles.
And in fact Nice has a long history if artists coming here and creating, and often to staying, and artists coming from this part of the world. It is valued here. Contempoarary works are juxtaposed not just with traditional art and architecture, in a way that celebrates this long tradition and continues to cultivate it. Art is very alive and well in this city!I can’t show really show you with pictures – sometimes you can’t take them anyway, and even when you can it just doesn’t tell the story of the context, so here is an attempt…
Very early in our stay we went to the Musée des Beaux Arts a magnificent building set in a lovely garden, which featuring work from great Impressionist and post-Impressionist artists including Monet, Renoir, Duffy, Sisley and Picasso. But some of the most memorable pieces for me some more traditional sculptures which were so beautifully and sensitively wrought. I was able to take photos here, but don’t think it does the works justice so have only included some of the sculptures. Unfortunately the website doesn’t include much photography either, and the English version of the site doesn’t seem to have been built, but it was a great experience.
We were at the Matisse gallery on this glorious day in the spring. It is set in an olive grove that was full of people – children playing games, old people watching, the boule players up one end, animals with their people or wanting to be playing with each other, a couple of food vendors – coffee, crepes, baguettes…
The gallery and park is right next door to the Franciscan monastery where both Henri Matisse and Raoul Dufy are buried. (Just down the road from where we lived was a plaque on a building saying this was where he had lived before he bought his own place). What was so great about how the works in Matisse’s gallery was that rather than just big blockbusters we’re so familiar with, it traced his progression and process from his early, traditional paintings, no doubt more in keeping with the style of the Academy, to his continuing development and experimentation. Using black ink and brush (like Chinese artists), bright, primary colours and shapes drawing on colours and flowers from his time in Tahiti, the minimalism of African masks making. The joy of playful figures and cutouts echo his sketches and studies of his family and friends – and theirs of him, giving a much better appreciation of him as a person, and again of his art. Being able to look closely at the marquette or model he had made for the new chapel for the Dominican convent at Vence, as well as the colour and design studies for the windows were there just made a lot of links more evident. No photos allowed in the gallery – and definitely wouldn’t do it justice.
You might have guessed he is one of my all time favourites…
Another favourite is Marc Chagal, who I guess became that when I saw a wonderful exhibition of his work at the LA County Museum of Art. I love his use of colour, both visual and symbolic, his magical or mythical use of images and perspective that rearrange the picture plane, and his affirmation of love and the redemption and joy found in love, with his wife, but also in a more universal sense. I hadn’t realised how much his Jewish heritage stayed with him even though he had moved away from his commune and Russian homeland. In the paintings in his gallery in Nice it was clear how he carried the burden of centuries old persecution of Jews, as well as and what happened in WWII and the holocaust in a personal way. The Musée Message Biblique – Marc Chagal houses the largest permanent collection of his work including, as his special wish, all his 17 ‘biblical works’.
I’ve heard a lot of people dismiss Renoir as an artist, but I think when he got it right, he got it very right. Visiting Renoir’s ‘museum’ was another eye-opener. I didn’t even realise he’d ended up down here. It was very personal really, visiting his house and garden… The farmhouse on the same property was something he often painted. The ancient olive trees, the magnificent linden tree, the orchard, the hazy light looking through the olive trees to the nearby village, family photos, his paintings and sculptures of his wife, and children and this obviously special place to him, as well as and friend’s paintings of him, his family and studio, his studio still with easel, furniture, and model’s costumes just sitting there next to a paintings, was all so evocative of sharing a sense of place, love and family that reverberated in an awesome way.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to Picasso’s museum. We all know he was a genius, but we just ran out of time and the others were my priority. ( Tina particularly wanted to go to Marineland.) I’m not finished with Nice’s art yet, and there are tons more galleries we just couldn’t get to, but there are another two I’ll tell you about in another post.