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 nineteenth century a special category of visitor – and settler – has transformed the Côte d’Azur into the greatest concentration of modern art in Europe. Matisse and Picasso are among the most illustrious of the artists who chose to live in the South of France and this tour is a fine opportunity to see the works they produced.
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. Towards the end of his life, wracked with ill health, he was persuaded by a former model turned nun to decorate the chapel of her convent. The result of his designs for the building, stained glass, murals, metalwork and vestments is the modest, joyous Chapelle du Rosaire.
At Antibes the Picasso Museum is housed in the Château Grimaldi, lent to the artist as studio space in 1946, a year in which, with the war over and Françoise Gilot happily ensconced, he produced a series of life-affirming paintings. In 1947 he tried his hand at pottery, which revitalised the local ceramics industry in Vallauris. Also here are his powerful and disturbing War and Peace panels, in a medieval vaulted chamber.
Visting the Fondation Maeght in St-Paul-de-Vence, offers an opportunity to see other artists who flocked to the south (Braque, Bonnard, Léger) as well as the ‘big three’. The building itself (designed by José Luis Sert, 1963) is a work entirely sympathetic to its natural surroundings, set in gardens enlivened by Miró’s Labyrinthe and other sculptures.
Mougins, Nice. Fly at c. 11.30am (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Nice. Visit the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins which has a diverse collection of antiquities interspersed with a hundred classically inspired paintings, drawings and sculptures by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Dufy, Cézanne. First of three nights in Nice.
St Paul de Vence, Vence, Nice. 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. At Vence see the Chapel of the Rosary, designed and decorated by Matisse. Return to Nice for an optional afternoon visit to the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain with its excellent collection of post-war art.
Antibes, Vallauris, Le Cannet. Most of the paintings Picasso produced in his studio in the Château Grimaldi in 1946 have been donated to the town of Antibes. Continue to Vallauris, a centre of contemporary pottery revived by Picasso. His works are displayed in the Ceramics Museum, alongside his masterpiece War and Peace. The first museum dedicated to the works of Bonnard, who shared a close friendship with Matisse, opened in Le Cannet in 2011.
Nice. Visit the Musée Matisse, which unites a wide range of the artist’s work; sculpture, ceramics, stained glass as well as painting. Fly from Nice arriving at London Heathrow at c.4.30pm.
Journalist and broadcaster. Critic at Large for The Daily Telegraph and columnist for BBC Culture. He has written and presented documentaries on BBC TV and radio, and is the author of three art books published by Penguin. He joined the Telegraph in 2003 and reported regularly for BBC Two’s The Culture Show from 2009–14. In 2016, he sat on the British Council’s Venice Biennale Selection Committee and was a judge for the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. He serves on the Courtauld Association Committee, on the advisory board of the Classical Art Research Centre at the University of Oxford and is a trustee of The Ampersand Foundation. Alastair was educated at Westminster School, where he was a Queen’s Scholar, at Christ Church, Oxford, and at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £1,980 or £1,760 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,160 or £1,940 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A319); private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts and 3 dinners with wine; all admissions; all tips for waiters and drivers; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager; hire of radio guides for better audibility of the lecturer.
Hôtel La Pérouse, Nice: a stylish four-star hotel partially built into the cliff and overlooking the Promenade des Anglais. Rooms are furnished in modern Provençal style.
There is a fair amount of walking and standing around in museums. Average distance by coach per day: 22 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'This was a costly tour for me but it was so special, so well organised and an experience I will never forget so, undoubtedly, it was so, so worth it!'
'Alastair Sooke was brilliant; he brought alive the artist, period and place with enthusiasm - a master of his subject.'
'Alastair Sooke was outstandingly knowledgeable, hardworking and very friendly. He never stopped being available throughout the tour. A real class act.'
'Every minute was organized beautifully.'