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Key Dates:

Call for Papers
Summer 2008

Abstract Submittal Deadline
3 October 2008

Authors Notified,
Student Travel Grant Recipients Notified
December 2008 

Schedule Posted
January 2009

Meeting
25-30 January 2009

Modern Art In and Around Nice

Prepared by by Malcolm Shick, Professor of Marine Sciences, University of Maine

Reprinted from L&O Bulletin 16.4.

“When I realized that every morning I would see this light again, I couldn’t believe my good luck.” So said Henri Matisse after arriving in Nice in 1917, where even in winter he was charmed by January’s reflected colors and the luminosity of the daylight. He lived initially in an apartment overlooking the Baie des Anges (named for angel sharks) and the Promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean shore, and then nearby, overlooking the Cours Saleya in Vieux Nice. Strolling in the area provides a good sense of what attracted artists to the French Riviera.

Matisse was not the first to be drawn by the quality of the light and climate to live permanently on the Côte d’Azur, having been preceded by Paul Signac, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Raoul Dufy, and followed by Pablo Picasso, Pierre Bonnard, Jean Cocteau, and Marc Chagall. Many other modern artists spent time in the nearby coastal towns and hilltop villages, and imparted an unsurpassed legacy inspired by the Mediterranean environment they captured in their art. The 2009 ASLO Meeting affords an exceptional opportunity to appreciate some of this in the setting where it was created.

Such a concentration of creative artists led ultimately to the establishment of outstanding museums exhibiting their works. Those mentioned here are within a 20-km radius of Nice; there are many more slightly further afield. The former include museums dedicated to individuals such as Matisse and Chagall in Nice, and others nearby: Picasso in Antibes and Vallauris, Renoir in Cagnes-sur-mer (in his home, maintained as when he lived there), Cocteau in Menton (in a restored 17th century fort), and Fernand Léger in Biot. Both the National Marc Chagall Biblical Message Museum and the Matisse Museum are in the hilly suburb of Cimiez. The first houses the world’s largest public collection of Chagall’s work. This includes the stained glass windows and mosaics that capture the Mediterranean colors.

The Matisse Museum, housed in a villa with a trompe l’oeil façade, should not be missed by any admirer of this artistic icon of Nice. The biographical collection spans Matisse’s career and includes drawings, paintings, and sculpture, as well as the colored cutouts and tapestries of his later years. Among these are Oceania, the Sea, and Oceania, the Sky, inspired by his skin diving in a Tahitian lagoon, where the underwater light was for him “like a second sky” illuminating the colorful corals, fishes, and algae. There are examples of cutouts that he used as design studies, such as those for his book Jazz, including The Lagoon, another memento of his Tahitian sojourn.

Also in Nice, the Museum of Fine Arts is housed in a Belle Époque palace and includes a large collection of Dufy’s paintings of local scenes. Across town, only steps away from the Acropolis Convention Center on the way to Vieux Nice, is the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, a striking example of modern French public architecture. It focuses on the New Realists and the Fluxus artists of the School of Nice. The former include Jean Tinguely, César, Christo, and especially Yves Klein (don’t miss his sculptures in the eponymous, intense blue color). The latter artists are exemplified by Ben Vautier (spend some time inside Ben’s Hut, enjoying his humor). Not coincidentally, the museum also has a large collection of American Pop Art from the 1960s, contemporary with the School of Nice, including works by Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol, among others.

In 1946–47, Picasso lived in the Château Grimaldi, which was built atop Greek ruins adjacent to the Old Town in Antibes, and which is now the Picasso Museum. One can linger amid the works in the rooms where Picasso created them. Displayed is the spectrum of his talents, including ceramics and sculpture, drawing, and painting. These include small still lifes with Mediterranean sea urchins, cephalopods, and fishes (some seemingly painted just before they became the artist’s lunch), as well as the large canvas, Ulysses and the Sirens, inspired by marine mythology.

Inland, at Saint-Paul, is the Fondation Maeght, set marvelously on a hilltop amid Provençal pines and stones, with its extensive collection of modern and contemporary works by Bonnard, Braque (including a mosaic pool, The Fishes), Alexander Calder, Alberto Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky, Léger, and many others—especially Joan Miró. Miró designed the labyrinth where many of his whimsical sculptures, including a chimeric bronze sea turtle, surprise and charm the stroller.

Centuries-old chapels have been embellished by Georges Braque, Raoul Ubac, Picasso, and Cocteau. The last of these artists restored and decorated a little chapel near the shore in Villefranche-sur-mer (formerly used by fishermen to store their nets, and now consecrated to Saint Peter) with scenes of local people in traditional costumes harvesting the fruits of the sea, painted in pastel colors and evincing Cocteau’s distinctive line. The modern Matisse Chapel in Vence, designed by the master near the end of his life, is his creation in all respects, from the priests’ vestments to the stained glass window—The Tree of Life—in vibrant blues and a specially formulated lemon yellow, with its biomorphic shapes.

An exciting drive along the Moyenne Corniche, or a scenic train ride closer to the sea, takes you to Monaco and the Musée Océanographique, the creation of Prince Albert I. The building of white limestone rising 85 meters from the shore of the Mediterranean dates to the end of the Belle Époque and is correspondingly lavish, its carved façade grounded by intertidal macrophytes at the base and crowned by the names of early research vessels. Marine paintings adorn the ceilings, from which hang Constant Roux’s famous chandeliers modeled on Ernst Haeckel’s illustrations of the radiolarian Haeckeliana (named by John Murray) and the scyphomedusa Rhopilema. A highlight is the mosaic of marine biodiversity that radiates outward from a spectacular Gorgonocephalus. The aquarium is a showpiece of the Musée, but take time to appreciate more of this institution whose foundation was guided by “the two directive forces of civilization: Art and Science.”

If you want to know more, Artists and Their Museums on the Riviera (1998) by Barbara F. Freed is a concise guide that will be useful to those who have time to explore the Côte d’Azur.