Natural resources and climate have drawn invaders and visitors to Nice and its surroundings from the Greek colonists of classical times to the jet-set of today. But from the late 19th century a special category of visitor – and settler – transformed the Côte d’Azur into the greatest concentration of modern art in Europe.
Monet first visited Antibes in 1883; Signac bought a house in the fishing village of St-Tropez in 1892. Matisse’s first visit to the Midi in 1904 transformed his art, and from 1918 he spent more time on the Côte d’Azur than in Paris.
Matisse, Chagall and Picasso are merely among the most illustrious of the artists who chose to live in the South of France. Many of their fellow modernisers followed suit: Braque, Bonnard, Dufy, Picabia.
This tour is an extraordinary opportunity to see how modernity relates to the past as well as the present, and how gallery displays can be centred on the art, the location or the patron/collector. In Matisse’s Chapelle du Rosaire at Vence, traditional arts and crafts have been revived by a modern genius, as in the monumental mosaic and glass designs of Léger which can be seen at Biot.
There are also echoes of collecting habits of earlier eras in the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild. The mixture of past and present and the juxtaposition of the Goût Rothschild with the beauty of its location are breathtaking. (Graham Sutherland drew exotic flowers and plants in the extraordinary gardens.)
At Antibes the Picasso Museum is housed in the Château Grimaldi, lent to Picasso as studio space in 1946 where he produced life-affirming paintings.
Old and new galleries abound, such as the Fondation Maeght, St-Paul-de-Vence, whose building (designed by José Luis Sert, 1963) makes it a work of outstanding sympathy to its natural surroundings, in gardens enlivened by Miró’s Labyrinthe and other sculptures.
Nice. Fly at c. 11.15am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Nice. There is an afternoon visit to the Musée des Beaux Arts Jules Chéret, concentrating on their 19th- and early 20th-century holdings.
Nice. The Musée Matisse unites a wide range of the artist’s work; sculpture, ceramics, stained glass as well as painting. In the afternoon, visit the Marc Chagall Museum which has the largest collection of the artist’s works: notably the 17 canvases of the Biblical Message, set in a peaceful garden in a salubrious Nice suburb.
Antibes, Vallauris, Cagnes-sur-Mer. Most of the paintings Picasso produced in his studio in the Château Grimaldi in 1946 have been donated to the town of Antibes. Vallauris is a centre of contemporary pottery revived by Picasso, whose masterpiece War & Peace is here. Renoir’s house in Cagnes-sur-Mer is set amidst olive groves, a memorial to the only major Impressionist to settle in the south.
St-Tropez, Biot. Drive west to St-Tropez, which has been popular with artists since Paul Signac settled here in 1892. The Musée de l’Annonciade is one of France’s finest collections of modern art (Signac, Maillol, Matisse, Bonnard, Vlaminck, Braque). Continue to Biot and visit the Musée National Fernand Léger, built to house the artist’s works bequeathed to his wife.
Villefranche-sur-Mer, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Nice. In Villefranche is the small Chapelle St-Pierre, decorated by Cocteau. Continue to St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to see the paintings, sculpture and furniture of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, a mansion set in attractive gardens. The afternoon is free in Nice or there is an optional visit to the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain with its excellent collection of post-war art.
St-Paul-de-Vence, Vence. The Maeght Foundation at St-Paul-de-Vence is renowned for its collections (Picasso, Hepworth, Miró, Arp, Giacometti, but not all works are shown at once) and for its architecture and setting. In the afternoon visit the Chapelle du Rosaire, a Dominican chapel designed by Matisse.
Le Cannet. The first museum dedicated to the works of Bonnard opened in Le Cannet in 2011. Fly from Nice arriving at London Heathrow at c. 4.45pm.
In recent years, renovation work has led to museum closures. At the moment all visits listed are possible but we cannot rule out the possibility of changes.
Mary Lynn Riley
Resident on the Côte d’Azur and a specialist in 19th- and 20th-century modern and contemporary art. She designs and teaches art courses and art appreciation workshops for adults at the Musée Bonnard in Le Cannet and lectures at other area museums. She completed her Master of Fine Arts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, USA and previously worked at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.
Price, per person
Two sharing, standard room: £3,060 or £2,820 without flights. Two sharing, superior sea view room: £3,330 or £3,090 without flights. Single occupancy, standard room: £3,720 or £3,480 without flights. Single occupancy, superior sea view room: £4,150 or £3,910 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320 & 319); private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts and 4 dinners (with wine, water and coffee); all admissions; all tips for waiters and drivers; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
By train: London – Paris – Nice: c. 11 hours. Contact us for more information.
Hotel La Pérouse, Nice: stylish 4-star hotel partially built into the cliff and overlooking the Promenade des Anglais. All rooms have a balcony or terrace. Currently undergoing significant renovation.
There is a fair amount of walking and standing around in museums. Average distance by coach per day: 40 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'I really did feel like a traveller and not a tourist.'
'An enjoyable itinerary with an excellent local lecturer. A very happy group. Thank you.'
'A terrific formula, and the attention to detail which makes all the difference.'