“Nice is all décor, a very beautiful, fragile town, but a town without people, without depth” – Matisse
Visiting the Riviera, you are not able to skip the biggest city, Nice. Here was born Yves Klein, a leader of the New Realism movement of the 1960s. MAMAC, Nice’s mammoth modern art gallery in the city centre, is the place to go for a dazzling dose of International Klein Blue – the only colour in numerous Klein paintings and sculptures of electric vividness.
“It was all décor, a very beautiful, fragile town, but a town without people, without depth” – Matisse
The city’s greatest colourist, though, is modernist Henri Matisse, who spent long periods in the Riviera’s capital. Here he developed the colour palette and mature painting style for which he is celebrated and widely adored. A city of pleasure epitomised by its elegant seafront and its flower-decked carnival, Nice is not a very serious place, both Matisse and Klein felt.
“Tourists on vacation come to where we live, we inhabit the land of vacation, which gives us this feeling for doing idiotic things.”
Ascend the hillside to the suburb of Cimiez, Chagall – the Russian Jewish master also left a legacy of dazzling colour at the Marc Chagall National Museum of the Biblical Message. A highlight amongst the Riviera’s major galleries, here a transcendent spirituality emanates from 17 huge canvases displayed in a purpose-built structure set in its own park.
Take the exhilarating coastal road east from Nice and you come to the haven that wonderful spirit, Jean Cocteau, found in the 1920s: Villefranche-sur-mer. The gadfly artist – famed also for his poetry, plays and films – got to decorate the little fishermen’s chapel opposite the hotel, and today Cocteau’s lively murals of mythological figures and harbour scenes filling the interior are one of the Riviera’s artistic delights.
Today there may be nothing avant-garde about the Riviera, but to follow the path of the painters – seeing roughly the same scenes that they saw, and what they made of it all – is a journey to savour.
Text and photos by Keith Mundy
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