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Best Art Museums and Art on the French Riviera

Whether it's time for a break from the sea, the weather is bad or you're inspired to acquaint yourself with the artists who lived and worked on the Riviera, there's a wealth of art museums and art on the Cote d'Azur. Some museums are housed in the original homes and studios of the artists, affording a unique perspective on the works created at the time. Although there are plenty of paintings on display, visiting their creative spaces is as much about entering into the artist's life as it is about viewing their paintings.

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In addition to the museums, there are also several works that were created as local tributes and these are highly worthwhile. Matisse's chapel in Vence, Chagall's mosaic for the Vence cathedral, Picasso's mural for the chateau in Vallauris are musts on any art-lovers itinerary.

Art in Nice

MAMAC Museum

MAMAC

Those interested in contemporary art need look no further than Nice's MAMAC (Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporaine). Focusing on art from 1960 onward, the museum is an excellent place to explore the works of artists belonging to the Ecole de Nice, as well as artists from Pop Art, New Realism, Fluxus and Supports/Surfaces. Note that this museum will be closed for renovation from January 2024 to at least 2026.

Check out all museums in Nice

Chagall Museum

Chagall Museum

Designed by the artists himself, the Chagall museum in Cimiez was created to display the Biblical Message cycle, composed of 17 large paintings on Old Testament themes. Chagall wanted the museum to be a place of spirituality that would inspire prayer or meditation. The clean, sober lines of the building and oblique lighting keeps the focus on the master's vivid colors and striking forms. As the work progressed, Chagall requested the addition of an auditorium that he then ornamented with stained glass windows depicting the creation of the world. Chagall also worked on the design of the garden in which white and blue flowers predominate. The African lilies are designed to blossom on Chagall's birthday, July 7. The museum is closed Tuesday. Details on the museum website.

Matisse Museum
Matisse Museum

Tempete a Nice (1919), Odalisque au Coffret Rouge (1926), Fenetre a Tahiti and Nymphe dans la foret are some of the works displayed in this museum devoted to honoring the life, work and personality of the artist. An entire room is devoted to the cut goaches the artist created in later years as his health declined. Don't miss the collection of studies he executed in preparation for the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence.

The museum is housed in a stately 17th-century Genoese-style villa. Matisse never lived there, although for a time he lived nearby in the Excelsior Regina hotel. There are regular exhibitions of other artists inspired by Matisse. Details on the museum website.

See all three museums on a central Nice art itinerary.

Musée des Beaux Arts

Beaux Arts Museum, Nice

The eclectic collection displayed on two floors of this 19th-century mansion concentrates on artists linked to the region including Raoul Dufy, Michel de Tarnowsky, Jules Chéret, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Highlights include the magnificent Nymph of Henri-Louis Courdet, the Tete de Vieillard by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Hubert Robert's Gorges d'Ollioles, Rodin's The Kiss and Marie Bashkirseff's Autoportrait a la Pallette. There's an entire room devoted to Raoul Dufy's scenes of the Riviera.

The building was constructed in 1878 for the Ukranian Princess Elizabeth Koutshoubey and is in the midst of a lovely English garden. The museum is closed Monday. Details of special exhibits on the museum website.

Musée d'Art Naïf

Museum of Naive Art, Nice

Lodged in the 19th-century Chateau Sainte Hélène, the Anatole Jakovsky Museum of Naive Art is a fun and “un-museumy” place to visit. Naïve art favors the spontaneity of an individual vision where each visitor is invited into an imaginary journey. Paintings, sculptures, drawings and posters trace the evolution of this art form through the works of its most famous painters: Bauchant, Bombois, Vivin, Seraphine, Ribert, Lefranc, Rabuzin, Ivan and Josip Generalic, Grandma Moses, Douanier Rousseau and more. The museum is located in a beautifully landscaped park dotted with sculpture. The museum is closed Tuesday. Details of special exhibits on the museum website.

See both museums on a west Nice art itinerary.

Art in Vence

Chagall Mosaic

In the baptisery of the Cathedral of Vence is the mosaic, Moïse sauvé des eaux (Moses saved in the waters), created by Marc Chagall in 1979.

Chagall mosaic in the Vence cathedral

Chagall lived in Vence from 1950 to 1966. Many years after leaving Vence, he returned to express his gratitude by offering this magnificent mosaic to the town. The mosaic depicts the story of baby Moses, placed in a basket, saved by the Pharaoh's daughter and then adopted by her.

Chapelle du Rosaire

This extraordinary Dominican chapel was entirely designed by Matisse as a gift for his former nurse and model who became a Dominican nun. From the stained-glass windows to the candlesticks, all designed by the artist, the chapel is a monument to Matisse's genius and perhaps the most significant artistic landmark in the region. Supplementary exhibition rooms trace the development of the chapel and Matisse's artistic vision expressed through photos and letters.

It's an easy and pretty walk from the town center. Check the Chapel's website for the opening hours.

Saint Paul de Vence

Maeght Foundation

Fondation Maeght sculpture garden

Located in the midst of a pine forest uphill from Saint Paul de Vence, the Fondation Maeght displays an extraordinary collection of 20th-century artists including Georges Braque, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Diego Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky and more.

Marguerite and Aimé Maeght (pronounced meg) were art dealers who had befriended most of the artists on display here. Catalan architect Josep Lluís Sert designed the structure with its vast halls open to the surrounding landscape dotted with fountains and sculptures. It opened in 1964 and is considered the most prestigious art collection in the region. The museum is open daily. For details on exhibits from contemporary artists, see the foundation's website.

See the art in Vence and Saint Paul de Vence on an art itinerary

Antibes

Picasso Museum

Picasso Museum, Antibes
cc license Tiia Monto

Picasso set up shop in Antibes in 1946. Between mornings on the beach and evenings enjoying the nightlife of Juan-les-Pins he worked here in the afternoons. Housed in the medieval Grimaldi Castle this museum displays several works created during the few months he spent here. Also on display are the ceramics he created in Vallauris as well as works by Hans Hartung and Anna- Eva Bergman. For details see the museum website.

Hans Hartung and Anna- Eva Bergman Foundation

Studio in Bergman-Hartung foundation

The abstract expressionists Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman lived and worked in this studio that they had constructed on the outskirts of Antibes. In addition to conserving the artistic legacy of this influential couple, the studio/museum gives fascinating insight into their lives and paintings. Bergman was profoundly influenced by the landscapes and folklore of her native Norway. Hartung was a German who fought for France in WWII and was a forerunner of the Lyrical Abstraction movement. The works on display here reflect his interest in the so-called "Golden Ratio". The foundation is only open from May to September. Details on the foundation's website.

Visit Antibes art museums on an art itinerary

Art in Vallauris

National Picasso Museum "War and Peace"


Vallauris Castle

The 16th-century Vallauris Castle hosts 3 museums: the Magnelli Museum, the Ceramic Museum and Picasso's War and Peace Museum. The latter consists of two gigantic painted murals representing the artist's denunciation of war and passionate committment to peace. He created the work in 1952 at a time when he was living in Vallauris.

Combine a visit to Antibes and Vallauris on an art itinerary

Art in Biot

Leger Museum

Leger Museum, Biot

The Leger Museum was created at the initiative of his widow, Nadia, and constructed on property owned by the painter. With 348 works, it provides an excellent overview of Leger's work. While in Biot stop to admire the pottery and glassware on display in many shops. The village had been known for its pottery since the Roman era and branched out to glassblowing in the middle of the 20th century. Biot village is perched on a hill. To get there, take the train to Biot's train station which lies on the coast. Take bus 10 to the Fernand Leger stop and walk 500m to the museum. See the schedules at Envibus. The museum is closed Tuesday. Details on the museum website.

Art in Le Cannet

Bonnard Museum

Bonnard Museum, Le Cannet

Pierre Bonnard fell in love with the colors in the south of France and lived in Le Cannet between 1922 and 1947. From his villa high on the hills overlooking Cannes and the sea, he painted some 300 works, some of which are exhibited here. The Bonnard museum is devoted to honoring his attachment to the village and the surrounding countryside that so inspired him. From the museum follow a walk to see the landscapes he painted. Wear good shoes and bring sun protection as there's some climbing involved. Details on the museum website. To get there, take the train to Cannes and then bus 1 for a short ride to the Mairie Le Cannet. Check Palmbus for the schedules.

Art in Cagnes-sur-Mer

Renoir Museum

Renoir Museum, Cagnes-sur-Mer

It's easy to picture the great Renoir as a country gentleman in this Provencale-style villa. He bought the Domaine des Collettes in 1907 and spent the last 12 years of his life here painting his Mediterranean garden and local landscapes. Renoir's workshop, kitchen, bedrooms and garden subtly evoke the spirit of the painter and the 14 canvases on display give an idea of his greatness. A number of his sculptures are also on display. It's a calm and peaceful space with lovely views down to the sea. The museum is closed Tuesday. Details here. Parking is limited. There may be a shuttle bus from central Cagnes-sur-Mer in the summer. Otherwise, take bus 620 from Parc Phoenix, Nice to the Georges Pompidou stop from which it's a 10-minute walk to the museum.

Art in Roquebrune-Cap Martin

Villa E-1027

Villa E-1027, Roquebrune-Cap Martin

Anyone who thinks that modern architecture and design is cold or unwelcoming needs to visit the residence of Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray. She built and designed Villa E-1027 with her lover, Jean Badovici according to the modernist principles defined by Le Corbusier. Completed in 1929, the sleek white villa resembles a boat perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. The nautical theme is echoed in the sparse but elegant design of the interior and its furniture. Le Corbusier visited the villa often, even contributing murals. He later built a simple cottage next door, Cabanon, to continue his visits. It's considered a masterpiece of minimalist design. Another minimalist construction, Etoile de Mer, served as his restaurant. The whole ensemble is called Cap Moderne and lies directly across from the Roquebrune-Cap Martin train station. It's open from April to October. Online reservations are obligatory. Details on the website.

Map of Art Museums on the Riviera

Practicalities

Museums on the Cote d'Azur are rarely crowded. The only exception would be the opening of a major exhibit in MAMAC or the Maeght Foundation. Even then, it is never necessary or even possible to make an online reservation.

Admission to Nice museums is based on a €15 museum pass which you can purchase in any museum or online.

Admission prices to other regional museums range from €5 (Bonnard Museum) to €14 (Maeght Foundation).

It may be worthwhile to look into the French Riviera Pass which gives free admission to some art museums. Passes are valid for 24/48/72 hours. Details here.

Art Itineraries

Central Nice Art Itinerary

Start at MAMAC which is close to the Garibaldi stop on the tramway. Return to Place Garibaldi and take bus 33 to the Arénes/Musèe Matisse stop. After visiting the Matisse Museum return to the bus stop and take bus 33 or bus 5 downhill to the Musée Chagall stop. Or simply walk down the bd de Cimiez and enjoy the stately Belle Epoque architecture. Note that the Matisse and Chagall museums are closed Tuesday and MAMAC is closed Monday.

West Nice Art Itinerary

Take tram line 2 to the CUM stop to visit the Beaux Arts Museum. After the visit board tram line 2 again and take it to the Naive Art Museum. Note that the Beaux Arts Museum is closed Monday and the Naive Art Museum is closed Tuesday.

Vence and Saint Paul de Vence Art Itinerary

Take Bus 9 from Parc Phoenix in Nice to the last stop in Vence. It's an easy walk to the Cathedral and Chagall's Mosaic in Vence's town center. From there, follow signs to the Chapelle du Rosaire. It's an easy and scenic walk from the town center. Return to the bus stop (maybe after lunch in Vence?) and take bus 655 to the Fondation Maeght. Do NOT descend at the Saint Paul Village stop as it's a steep walk up to the Fondation. Visit the Fondation first and then walk down to Saint Paul de Vence village. Note that the Chapelle du Rosaire is closed Sunday and Monday and open afternoons only Wednesday and Saturday. During the summer there's a shuttle service between the Chapel and the Fondation Maeght.

Antibes/Vallauris Art Itinerary

From Antibes train station take bus 5 (see schedules at Envibus) to Vallauris and walk to the Castle. To the Bergman-Hartung Foundation take bus 9, to the “Nova Antipolis” stop or bus 6 to the “Chappelle des Combes” stop or Line A to the “Centre commercial” stop. It's about a kilometer walk from any stop. To cover both the Vallauris Castle and the Bergman-Hartung foundation in one day, you'll need to have your own wheels as there's no transportation between them. Note that the Bergman Hartung Foundation is only open from May to September, the Vallauris Castle is closed on Tuesday and the Picasso Museum is closed on Monday.

 

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