The museum of Matisse is a short journey from centre of Nice and has a superb collection of works by the great French artist Henri Matisse.
The Museum of Nice near Cimiez
Located in a fully renovated Genoese villa set in the olive grove in the Cimiez Gardens, where there are Roman ruins. The collection is home to paintings spanning the first sets from 1890 to the gouache drawings that Matisse produced at the end of his life. It’s a longish walk from the old town or a short bus ride (grab a transport guide from the tourist office outside nice station for details). Cimiez is a super smart part of Nice. It’s where the aristos who flocked here from Britain built their gorgeous and very posh villas. Those lovely buildings are still there and they’re a bit pricier than some parts of the city.
The artworks were largely donated by the artist himself, his wife and heirs. Paintings, engravings, sculptures, drawings and hundreds of pieces make this one of the most important Matisee collections in the world.
The artist Henri Matisse too came here from the cooler north of France where he was born in 1869.
Matisse studied law in Paris as a young man but became ill aged 20. His mother bought him paints and brushes to ease the boredom of recuperation and the rest as they say is history…
Matisse didn’t have formal training but he joined the studio of French artist Gustave Moreau, a man who adored colour. He spent hours at the Louvre studying paintings and then reproducing them on canvas. He was eventually accepted to the Ecole of Beaux Arts having previously been rejected. Life wasn’t always easy. Married with three children and financial struggles Matisse was determined to continue with his art come what may.
Eventually Matisse moved to live in the south of France. He went to Coulliore and Corsica but it was Nice that he loved best for its sun and the special light. His style changed through the years and it’s clearly shown in the paintings he did in Nice. He lived on the 3rd floor of the beautiful mansion house at the end of Cours Saleya, the colourful market place. But when he moved to the 4th floor with its larger windows overlooking the sea you can see the colour change as his inspiration was fired by what he could now see.
Up close and personal with the art of Matisse
At the Matisse museum in Nice you can follow the evolution of his style and talent. His first painting is there, a rather ordinary still life of books, quite dark and showing nothing of what was to come.
The exhibition of his work at the museum really illustrates the progress of Matisse the artists. You can clearly see his experiments with different styles, discarding them and moving on to something new. There’s also some of his own collection, he was an avid buyer of art, and you can clearly see the influence of other artists on him. The start of his fauvism period for instance is captured in an extraordinary painting of a turbaned woman, the colours are all wrong but somehow it works.
I loved that it was possible to get so close to the paintings and artwork. You can see the brush strokes, imagine him practicing, practicing, practicing until he got the colour and the lines right. Always torn between the two he strove to find a way to combine them to his satisfaction.
Matisse Chapel St Paul de Vence
In 1938 he moved to the Hotel Regina, the former residence of Queen Victoria. He remained there until 1943 when war caused him to flee to St. Paul de Vence. While there he took on his former nurse Monique Bourgeois, she had looked after him before when he was recovering from treatment for cancer. Now a nun, she told him that the town couldn’t afford a church. Though not religious Matisse, at the age of 77, took on the responsibility to design the Chapelle du Rosaire, its stained-glass windows, the interior, exterior and even the priests’ clothes. He worked non-stop for four years and the result is a masterpiece (read more about the Chapel)
The Matisse Museum is excellent, it allows a glimpse of the life and progress of this fascinating artist in a way that you just can’t glean from looking at pictures in a book – well worth taking a day off from the beach and the market to visit.
More things to do in Nice
Palais Lascaris – the hidden palace in the centre of town
The Russian churches of Nice
10 great things to do in Nice
The most delicious and authentic restaurants of Nice