An art tour of the Côte d’Azur
Surrounded by the vibrant blue hues of the Mediterranean Sea, the Côte d’Azur has been an endless source of inspiration to some of the world’s greatest artists.
Pretty ports, luscious flora and fauna and impressive architecture have made this region ripe for the sort of iconic imagery found in museums and galleries worldwide.
During the 1800s and 1900s, many of the major players in the art scene frequently flocked here, and many made it their permanent home.
Among the first to discover the artistic potential of the Côte d’Azur were Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910) and his friend Paul Signac (1863-1935). Together they hosted gatherings in St Tropez, regularly attended by many of the period’s leading lights including Henri-Emile-Benôit Matisse (1869–1954).
French artist Matisse had a long association with the region, relocating from Paris to Nice in 1917. The latter now hosts a museum in his honour.
A contemporary (and some would say rival) of Matisse, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) also found the Côte d’Azur to be a fitting home for many of his artistic endeavours. He studied ceramics here, and in Antibes you’ll find a museum dedicated to his life and work.
Follow in the artists’ footsteps
See the Côte d’Azur through a creative eye, and visit the places that inspired so many of the great artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of the region’s towns have honoured these luminaries who drew inspiration from the stunning scenery and enjoyed the playful vibe the sunshine and sea induced.
Located midway between Cannes and Nice, Antibes is a resort town that has been popular with visitors for centuries. Its whitewashed walls and rocky beaches have appealed to many famous faces including writer Graham Greene, and of course Pablo Picasso, who was first introduced to the region by painter Gerald Murphy.
The town became home to Picasso in 1946 for six months when he took up residency in its dramatic seafront castle. Among the pieces he created here were Les Sirènes, Joie de Vivre and Ulysses. The striking Château Grimaldi now houses the work he donated to the municipality.
Bordering Antibes’ west side is Vallauris, a commune famous for pottery, where Picasso learned techniques in ceramics. Today, you can see his pitchers and plates in the ceramics museum in Château de Vallauris, and in its tiny medieval chapel you can view his War and Peace epic, decorating the walls.
Located on the French–Italian border, Menton was a fashionable winter retreat for the upper classes of the mid 19th century. Boasting striking Italian architecture surrounded by the majestic landscape of the Alpes-Maritimes mountains, this Côte d’Azur gem also became a firm favourite of Jean Cocteau – writer, actor, painter and all-round man about town. The artist wasn’t alone in his love for Menton – it was also enjoyed by Katherine Mansfield who wrote stories here, and even Churchill who was inspired enough by the scenery to do a bit of painting.
Cocteau’s passion for this town has been rewarded with a museum in his honour, which was given a striking new building in 2011. The original museum belonged in the harbour’s 17th-century bastion, where you can still view his mosaics, pottery and drawings. The man also left his mark on the Menton Town Hall. Its Salle des Mariages was designed and decorated by Cocteau at the request of the mayor in 1957.
The second biggest city in the Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur, Nice is a popular haunt for many worldwide, who are attracted to its mild climate and natural beauty. The Promenade Des Anglais, punctuated with the city’s trademark palm trees, is perfect for a seaside stroll, while in the quaint Old Town you’ll find an abundance of galleries, churches and busy bars.
Matisse is probably the most famous artist to have worked and lived in Nice and his links to the city have been immortalised in the Matisse Museum, which celebrated its 50th birthday this year. You can retrace the artist’s footsteps in the city, taking in his former homes, by picking up a guide from the museum or the Nice tourist office.
Modernist Marc Chagall also made a name for himself in Nice, and is also honoured with a museum in the city, which marked a 40-year anniversary in 2013.
This sun-soaked town has played an important role in modern art history. Pointillist painter Paul Signac helped draw an artist crowd to this glamourous resort with gatherings held at his St Tropez home, bought in 1892. Many of his paintings depict the coastlines that have become synonymous with this part of France.
The town pays tribute to this artistic heritage with its striking Museé de l’Annonciade, a small but famous art museum housed in an elegantly converted 16th-century chapel. You can explore the work of Signac here, along with Matisse, Picasso and many more.
Inspired? Check out camping holidays in the Côte d’Azur.