Once you see the wonderful light of the south of France, you realize why so many artists have made their home here. The landscape is one of the azure blue seas, brilliant white houses and the vibrant colors of the region. Take the opportunity to try artists’ museums in and around Nice with suggestions of where to eat so you can make a day of it.
Musée Matisse, Nice
The work of Henri Matisse (1860-1954) glows with the colors of the Mediterranean sea and inspires with the sheer joie de vivre of his paintings. He came to Nice in 1916 and settled in leafy Cimiez in the hills above Nice for the rest of his life, living at the nearby Regina building at 71 bd de Cimiez.
The museum itself is housed in a magnificent 17th-century Genoese villa, painted in the ochre shades of Sienna. You walk through the rooms seeing how his work evolved from his early more studied and relatively somber art through the influence of Cézanne, his work as a founder of Fauvism to the wonderful 'cut-outs' which he made after he became bedridden later in his life. There are sculptures, photographs of the artist and sketches and models for his Chapelle du Rosaire in nearby Vence.
In the north of France, the Matisse Museum at Le Cateau-Cambrésis is a real find. Henri Matisse, who was born in the town, chose works to donate to the museum. Afterwards, enjoy a visit to one of Nice's amazing little bistros.
Musée Marc Chagall
In 1966, Marc Chagall gave 17 large canvases from his Biblical Messages series which included 5 versions of The Song of Songs to form the heart of the museum. The second gift in 1972 brought all the preparatory sketches, so you see the complete work from conception to finish. More items were added, making this the largest collection of his work and an absolute must for Chagall fans. Afterwards, visit a local bistro for coffee and a snack.
Musée Picasso, Antibes
The Château Grimaldi which Picasso used as a studio in 1946, stands on ramparts overlooking the sea. In the distance, you see the mega yachts of the mega-rich while the sea breaks against the rocks below. The windows give a pearly light to the wonderful collection of Picasso’s ceramics and the drawings, paintings, and prints that fill the small stone-walled rooms.
The museum also has some surprising and stunning works by Nicolas de Stael from the last two years of his brief life, plus paintings by Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, and Juan Mirò.
Afterwards, visit the Les Vieux Murs. Right on the ramparts and a couple of minutes walk from the Picasso Museum, with a terrace, seasonal menu and good reputation.
Alternatively, make your way to the covered marketplace just behind the museum and eat in one of the little cafés with the locals.
Musée Nationale Fernand Leger, Biot
Just south-east of the charming hilltop village of Biot, the museum is set in a somber, imposing building designed by the Russian architect, Andrei Svetchine in 1960. Specially built to house a huge collection of works by Fernand Léger, the first thing you see is the enormous ceramic mosaic that decorates the eastern façade.
Inside the collections consists of over 450 works, from sketches to paintings, sculptures to mosaics. Arranged strictly chronological, it shows Léger's progression from Impressionist to Cubism and his extraordinary later works with their geometric, robot-like style.
Afterwards, visit La Buvette du Jardin, open from April to the end of October, in the garden of the museum is a good bet, with great salads, savory tarts, sandwiches, and patisseries.
Fondation Maeght, St-Paul-de-Vence
This is an exception to the other museums here; it is the collection of Aime and Marguerite Maeght, renowned Cannes art dealers who also made friends with artists like Chagall and Matisse. So the collection is a mix, but it is among the best small museums in the world. If you're lucky enough to be staying at the delightful fortified village of St-Paul-de-Vence, it's just a few minutes away.
It's beautifully laid out, surrounded by leafy gardens, with light flooding inside, to illuminate works like the slender figures of Alberto Giacometti, the colorful paintings of Chagall, pastoral scenes from Bonnard who lived in Provence for the last 22 years of his life, and works from Joan Miro, Calder and international contemporary artists.
Book way in advance, particularly in the summer, for a memorable experience at La Colombe d'Or. This was where all the artists living in the south of France gathered, and today it has a pretty distinguished list of guests. You sit in a dining room surrounded by priceless works of art, or on the shady terrace.
In Haut-de-Cagnes, just above the main part of Cagnes-sur-Mer, this is one of the most peaceful and low key museums in the area. At Renoir's house, now the museum, You're greeted by the sound of birdsong among the olive, orange and lemon trees that shade the garden where his great bronze sculpture, Venus Victrix stands. Renoir came to the south of France when he began to suffer from arthritis and lived here from 1903 until his death in 1919.
Inside the house, the furniture and personal objects are left as they were when Renoir lived here. When you step into the atelier, the feeling of the artist's presence is so great that you expect to see him at his easel.
The museum has 11 of his paintings from the final period of his life as well as works by his friends Pierre Bonnard and Raoul Dufy.
Afterward, try Josy-Jo's, The attractive restaurant simply decorated with stone walls and terrace, known for grills and Provençal dishes.