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It is no coincidence that painters such as Modigliani, Matisse or Picasso chose a corner of the French Riviera—dubbed Cote d’Azur in 1888 by the poet Stephen Liégeard—to create some of their most impressive masterpieces. Attracted by the light, mild climate and colorful landscapes, Henri Matisse (1869-1954) was one of the artists who settled in Nice, the city which—along with Cannes—enjoys the most popularity in the region. Matisse lived here for 40 years in the nearby town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, relevant for its art galleries, historic center and the Maeght Foundation, one of the most important museums in the world that welcomed the avant-garde movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. The following places are welcoming to the arts and have seduced millionaires, nature lovers and great personalities of Western culture:
Cezanne and his hometown
In Aix-en-Provence, the ancient capital of Provence, there is a 3-mile road dedicated to its favorite son, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). The post-impressionist genius was born there and lived and created paintings depicting the Black Castle, the Sainte-Victoire Mountain, and the Saint-Sauveur Cathedral, among other local landmarks. The best way to know his art is to take a private tour from Marseille to l’Estaque, a fishing village that was also home to Georges Braque; and Gardanne, a pyramidal villa atop the Cativel Hill whose red-roofed houses of geometric shapes confirmed Cezanne a precursor of Cubism in the late 19th century.
The bohemian life of Marc Chagall
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and his wife Vava settled in Saint-Paul-de-Vence in 1966 and attracted by the town’s burgeoning art community spent there the last years of their lives. They lived in a huge house called La Colline, which has been transformed into a luxurious hotel. In his 80s, Chagall was still a sought-after artist, especially after painting the ceiling of the Opera Garnier in Paris. Very close to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, in Nice, there is a museum dedicated to the work he produced during this period. The artist frequented the Colombe d’Or hotel, a meeting place where he enjoyed the company of other geniuses like Calder, Picasso or Matisse, who were his neighbors.
The Last Days of Picasso
If there is an artist whose name is linked to the French Riviera, it is Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). Born in Malaga, Spain, he lived in various locations of the Cote d’Azur and by 1961 settled permanently in Mougins, until his death. Years earlier, between 1933 and 1936, Mougins had been the scene of his love affair with photographer Dora Maar. Medieval houses, rose and jasmine fields, art galleries, and exquisite cuisine are the essence of this village north of Cannes, which boasts a magnificent permanent display of the artist’s work in the chapel of Notre Dame de Vie, next to the house where he lived with his last wife, Jacqueline Roque. Vallauris, where Picasso discovered painted pottery, or Antibes, where the Picasso Museum stands today were some of the places frequented by the author of Guernica, whose presence drew many other intellectuals to the French Riviera.
The Renoir Museum is one of the main attractions in Cagnes-sur-Mer, whose landscapes and three miles of beaches captivated the French master and other painters such as Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) and André Derain (1880-1954). We found of particular interest the Haut-de-Cagnes hill and the old part of town where the 14th-century Grimaldi castle is located. Between 1907 and 1919, Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) settled with his wife and three children in Le Domaine des Colletes, where today stands a museum. You can visit his workshop, his gardens and olive groves and his private rooms, filled with personal memorabilia.
Jean Cocteau´s Chapel
Filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) was another illustrious resident of the French Riviera. One of his favorite places was Villefranche-sur-Mer, a fishing village where he fell in love with the actor Jean Marais, with whom he shared most of his life. He left several artistic trails, most notably the frescoes in the Chapelle Saint-Pierre, a delightful chapel built by the fishermen’s association. From its humble origin as a fishnet warehouse, the building was classified in 1996 as a French National Monument. Menton is one of the villages that seduced Cocteau, and today is home to a museum dedicated to his life and his work. ■