Most people know about the Matisse Museum in Nice where the artist lived for so long, but few people know about the Matisse Museum in Le Cateau-Cambrésis. Near Paris, it's a great place to visit.
Housed in the former arch-bishop's Fénelon Palace in the small town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis where Henri Matisse was born, this particular Matisse Museum is one of France’s relatively unknown but formidable collections of art. It is unique in that Henri Matisse chose what he wanted to give to the museum and stipulated how he wanted the works arranged.
Subsequent donations and acquisitions have rounded out the initial picture of how Matisse developed and changed as an artist. The works of Auguste Herbin, born in 1882 in a village near Le Cateau, and the magazines and books published by the editor-poet, Tériade, add two more collections.
Visiting the Museum
The museum is divided into three permanent collections, arranged so you move easily from one collection to the next. The Matisse collection takes you through the artist’s artistic life, starting with the early paintings he produced in his home town of Bohain in Picardy. The town was built around the textile industry and he grew up with rich textural decorative designs and arabesque shapes that so influenced his work.
The museum is compact enough to give you a proper appreciation of how Matisse came to make those vibrant, colorful, sweeping images in paintings, drawings, sculptures and inspiring paper cut-outs.
Highlights include Tahiti II; Vigne; Nu rose, interieur rouge; and the original plaster casts of his series of four Backs.
The Tériade Collection
Tériade was a hugely important editor-poet-publisher who founded the surrealist magazine Minotaure and later Verve. He published 26 editions between 1937 and 1960, commissioning the most exceptional writers (Jean-Paul Sartre, Gide, Valéry and Malraux) and artists from Matisse, Chagall and Picasso to Bonnard and Braque to work on the editions.
Between 1943 and 1975 he produced 27 books with artists like Chagall, Matisse, Le Corbusier, Picasso and Giacometti. It was an extraordinary series, with text and illustration being equally important.
Works of art in their own right, they were given to the museum in 2000 by Teriade’s widow, Alice.
The Herbin Collection
Auguste Herbin was born in 1882 near Le Cateau and grew up in the town. He trained at the art school in Lille and supported himself by working for a left-wing newspaper. He lived in Paris, discovering the works of Van Gogh and Cézanne, then became influenced by the Fauvists and Cubism.
After world war I Matisse began producing what he called his ‘monumental objects’ – relief works in wood or furniture in a cubist style. There’s an astonishing piano of 1925 and polychrome reliefs.
But most striking of all is a huge stained glass window, a copy of one made for a primary school, made of very large surfaces of a single color.
59360 Le Cateau-Cambrésis
Tel: 00 33 (0)3 27 84 64 50
Open daily except Tuesdays 10am-6pm
Closed January 1st, November 1st, December 25th
Admission: Adults 5 euros, 7 euros for Matisse galleries
Free admission for under 18s and every first Sunday of the month.
Audio guides are free with ticket price and cover different aspects from A visit with Matisse to one on the works of Herbin, all in English. There's a good shop and a small cafe where you can take your drinks and sandwiches outside to eat on the lawns.
For children: There is the audio guide The Matisse story for children.
Workshops: There are visual arts workshops, family and children’s workshops.
Getting to Le Cateau-Cambrésis
From Paris, take the Paris-Cambrai motorway (A1 then A2 – 170 kilometers) then take the RN43 from Cambrai to Le Cateau-Cambrésis (22 kilometers.)
From Lille or Brussels, take the motorways to Valenciennes. Leave at the Le Cateau-Cambrésis exit then take the D955 (30 kilometers from Valenciennes, total 90 kilometers from Lille.)
Le Cateau-Cambrésis is on the main Paris to Brussels line and accessible by train.
Check out the Guide to Getting to Lille from London and Paris