Lesser known museums of the French Riviera

By June 15, 2011News

We all know that great museums exist on the French Riviera – we rejoice with Picasso in Antibes and with Matisse in Vence, we admire Chagall’s ‘Biblical Message’ and Joan Miro’s voluptuous sculpture, the mythologically inspired ‘Sea Goddess,’ which he submerged into the sea, amidst great pomp and festivity for fifteen years, to protect the “peace of the waters” as he put it.

But few realize quite what a rich seam of art there is on the Riviera, quite how diversified it is and how well it’s exhibited.
“…in Legér’s paintings, man himself became a metallic volume, similar to the very weapons which tore him apart (in the trenches of the WWI) : a robotic, armored figure, whose staccato movements likened him to a piece of machinery….” This is Brigitte Hedel-Samson brilliantly describing how the early work of the great artist, sculptor and filmmaker Fernand Legér was influenced by his grim experiences of war.

FRENCH-RIVIERA-320-007A superb, spacious museum lying near the village of  Biot intelligently follows Legér’s development, from Cubism through to a more figurative style, as he simplified his work, flattening space and color – to such a point that he has been cited as the forerunner of Pop Art.

Further down the road, in a peaceful olive grove just outside Cagnes, lies the house in which Impressionist master Auguste Rodin lived out the last years of his life, captivated by the luxurious landscapes, the soft light and radiance of colors. It’s a delightful, tranquil, and very much a family home, where the great master worked until nearly his last day, his fingers so badly gnarled by rheumatism that he had to have his paint brushes strapped to his hand. Wander it one day, and be captivated as I was by the whole charming atmosphere.

Meanwhile, down at the port of Villefranche, the witty socialite Jean Cocteau, for whom the word ‘sybaritic’ would seem to have been coined, had run away from home at the age of 15 to Marseilles, and in the 1950s, as an older man, was back on the coast, a self confessed “adopted son of the South, a true Mediterranean”.

FRENCH-RIVIERA-320-003The excessive wild partying of the 1920s had now calmed down and Cocteau set about attempting to decorate the little fishermen’s chapel on Villefranche’s port – to the disconcertion of the fishermen. Eventually he won them round and created a little gem of a masterpiece on the lovely Place Amélie Pollonais. Inside is a swirling exuberance of color and form, rich in mythology and rejoicing in the lives of the local people and of St Peter. Take a chance to visit it, and relax afterward over a cooling pastis on the lovely Place overlooking the medieval port.

Anthony Bay is Europe 2011 tours are now all but impossible to obtain, so watch this space for the launch of our 2012 program in July, with some really exciting new products!

Meanwhile, best wishes to you all,

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Anthony Bay

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