The south of France is blessed with art treasures, and one of my favorites is the Matisse Museum in Nice.
Henri Matisse was one of the most important European painters of the 20th century, rivaling Picasso in his influence. Born in 1869 in northern France, where his family owned a seed business, Matisse went to university in Paris 1887 to study law, and tried his hand at painting almost by accident. His mother gave him art supplies to pass the time while he was recuperating from an attack of appendicitis, and discovered what he later called “a kind of paradise” in his painting. “From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
Initially Matisse painted traditional still-lifes and landscapes, and was greatly influenced by post-Impressionists Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Signac. It is said that Matisse nearly went broke purchasing other painters’ works which he admired and hung in his home.
Matisse’s career as an artist spanned an incredible 64 years, and this prolific master embraced a wide range of styles, including painting, sculpture, drawings, engravings, and his trademark decoupage cutouts, which he called “painting with scissors”. His painting styles include post-impressionism, pointillism, and the genre of Fauvism, of which he is the acknowledged master. Fauvism (wild, untamed) is known for vivid colors, flat lines, and an almost one dimensional quality.
Around 1904, Matisse and Pablo Picasso were introduced to each other in the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein, and they began a life-long friendship and friendly rivalry. Matisse moved to Cimiez, a suburb of Nice, in 1917 and lived there until his death in 1954.
At the age of 77, he began the most ambitious project of his life – which Matisse considers his masterpiece – the design of the Chapelle du Rosaire in the hillside village of Vence, France.
Over a period of 4 years, Matisse designed the building, created the stained glass windows, painted its murals, designed the bronze crucifix, fashioned the Stations of the Cross, and even designed the priests’ vestments.
By this point, suffering with cancer and confined to a wheelchair, Matisse painted three murals by use of a long stick strapped to his arm, with a paintbrush affixed to the end.
Matisse also published several books, with collections of his works and paper cutouts, along with his notes. The museum has a wonderful gift shop, so be sure to stop in to purchase a few prints, calendars, or note cards.
One final tip, be sure to check out the museum’s bathroom with the cool, automatic toilet seat that washes itself after each use. Okay, I don’t think Matisse invented this, but it has high entertainment value for the kids!
The Matisse Museum in Nice, 164 Avenue des Arènes, 06000 Nice,
Tel: 33- (0)4 93 81 08 08 is open 10:00 am – 6:00 pm every day except Tuesday, and is closed on Bank holidays and major holidays. Check the website or call in advance to be sure you will not be disappointed. Entrance is 4 Euro for adults, 2.50 Euro for students, and admission is free for children under 18.