Following the Artist Trail in the South of France

The Matisse Museum in Nice
The Matisse Museum in Nice

From Avignon in the west, to Nice in the far southeast corner, the Provence Alpes Cote d’Azur (PACA) region of France, has attracted the who’s who of the art world over the years. The list is impressive; Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, Renoir and even Van Gogh were all taken by a beautiful and varied region that had the added advantage for many of easing the pain of arthritis. We take a quick look through some of the most famous artists who made the region their home, how you can follow their trail and view inspiring original works.

Famous Impressionist Paul Cézanne found his way to the beautiful western Provence town of Aix-en-Provence, situated just to the north of Marseille. It is here that his ‘atelier,’ the studio in which he used to work sits today; preserved in the same manner he left it in when he died in October 1906. Today, the studio is open for visits, and you can discover the way he lived and the inspiration behind many of his paintings. View the real life objects that became the muse behind many of his stills. The town itself is worth a walk around, boasting markets which sell traditional Provençal produce, charming restaurants and the impressive Mont Sainte Victoire dominates the landscape. As the light reflects off the side of the mountain it becomes easy to see why it features in over 60 paintings by Cézanne.

Picasso was another great artist inspired by the South of France, from Aix-en-Provence where he followed in the footsteps of “father of us all” Cézanne, to areas further to the east of the PACA, including Mougins and Vallauris. In the centre of the latter stands his ‘homme au mouton’ and it was here that Picasso moved away from painting and towards creating sculptures and ceramics from materials found in the local area. A short drive towards the coastal town of Antibes allows visitors to the area to discover the Picasso Museum in the Chateau Grimaldi, which displays the great man’s early work and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the luxury yachts, it is a fantastic juxtaposition between the old and new French Riviera. In the museum you can discover more than 300 examples of Picasso’s work.

Picasso also cited our next artist as an inspiration, so we move down the road to the coastal town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, just a 15-minute drive (or 10 minute train journey) from Antibes. This is where one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement, Pierre-Auguste Renoir called home for 12 years. Visitors can explore his last home where he lived with his family, painted and sculpted in the latter years of his life. One of the highlights of any visit to the Renoir Museum in Cagnes-sur-Mer is a wander around the grounds which look out towards the medieval centre of the town and the Chateau Grimaldi (yes, them again), are full of citrus trees and olive groves and are home to one of Renoir’s best sculptures. There are 14 original paintings, family photographs and countless sculptures to admire, as well as a somewhat inspiring video of Renoir painting – and smoking – in spite of his arthritis. The museum was recently renovated and is a fascinating insight into the everyday life of one of France’s most prodigious artistic families.

The final stop on our artistic tour of Provence and the French Riviera is Nice. Open since 1963, the Villa des Arènes in the calm neighbourhood of Cimiez is home to the Matisse Museum, with donations from the man himself and his next of kin. The museum holds 68 paintings and gouaches, 236 drawings, 95 photos, 57 sculptures and several objects that belonged to Matisse, who spent 37 years in Nice and resided in the nearby Regina Hotel. The building itself is a beautiful 17th Century villa and is located in the same park as the Archaeological Museum, the remains of a Roman arena and a beautiful Franciscan monastery with beautifully kept gardens and views out towards the Mediterranean Sea and the huge villas on Mont Boron. Unless you are training to climb Everest, it is probably best to either drive or take one of the local buses to the museum during the summer months, as the walk from the centre of Nice is fairly steep.

Covering such a large distance, it is probably best to choose which of these artists you prefer and make a decision on where to stay based on this preference.

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