For centuries, the Côte d'Azur has fascinated generations of painters, drawn like butterflies by its famous light. And every corner of this illustrious coastline remembers the great masters of colour who came here to set up their easels. Every town in the region has its own painter.
Matisse in Nice
The Beau Rivage hotel has long since lost the tropical garden that separated it from the beach, and the lords have deserted the Promenade des Anglais, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2021. But the beautiful ochre façade of the house where Matisse lived until his death in 1954 still catches the last rays of sunlight from the Cours Saleya.
The painter arrived in the capital of the Riviera in December 1917. It rained and rained for days on end. Until the artist angrily decided to leave the city. It was at that precise moment that a gust of wind blew away the clouds, revealing a diamond sea speckled with cobalt blue. Matisse never left the Côte d'Azur again. "Why Nice? For this necessary limpidity ", he explained to Aragon. This was during the Roaring Twenties, when exiled Russian princesses, English queens, decadent writers and beautiful actresses came to Nissa la Bella* to feast in a whirlwind of feathers and diamonds.
Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer
In 1907, Renoir moved to a magnificent property in Cagnes-sur-Mer, offering stunning views all the way to Cap d'Antibes. He, too, immediately fell in love with the raw light and the incredible palette of colours of the olive trees, mimosas and orange trees that blaze down to the Mediterranean Sea at sunset.
It was here that, until his death in December 1919, the Impressionist artist painted frenetically, bringing out his joie de vivre and sensitivity in his canvases and sculptures. Works that continue to fascinate.The proof? In 2013, director and screenwriter Gilles Bourdos devoted a film to Renoir's time in Cagnais, starring Michel Bouquet in a magnificent portrayal of the painter.Renoir's beautiful home and its period furniture have now been transformed into a museum where you can see his paintings, his sculptures, his large glass studio and all his familiar objects.
Picasso in Antibes
It was as a neighbour, from the villa he rented in Golfe-Juan with his young companion Françoise Gilot, that Picasso entered the Château Grimaldi in Antibes for the first time in September 1946. He discovered this strange building topped by a tower whose terrace overlooked the gingerbread-coloured ramparts and the dazzling sea.
Seeing that this place enchanted the twentieth-century genius, the museum curator suggested that he set up a studio in a room at the top of the tower. Enthusiastic, Picasso immediately set to work, beginning by drawing three faun heads on the white walls, which he entitled "Les Clés d'Antibes" ("The Keys to Antibes"). In just two months, the Andalusian master produced over 23 canvases and 44 drawings here, including his masterpiece La joie de vivre, a gigantic bacchanal by the sea, as well as Le Nu assis sur fond vert and La Femme aux oursins. Officially promoted to the rank of "Picasso Museum", the Château Grimaldi now houses 275 works by the artist, including a large number of ceramics.
Bonnard in Cannes
When painter Pierre Bonnard set up his easel every morning in the shade of the palm trees on the Croisette, he probably had no idea that this sandy promenade running alongside the sea would one day become the most talked-about boulevard in the world during the Cannes Film Festival.
Of course, Cannes was already a rather famous winter resort when he moved there in 1926. But rather than live by the sea, Bonnard chose a modest house in the peaceful district of Le Cannet, near the bucolic banks of the Canal de la Siagne, a favourite place for his walks, where he lived discreetly until his death in 1948.
During this period, he painted almost 300 pictures, including L'Amandier en fleurs, Vue du Cannet and Nu dans la baignoire, works that are world-famous today. A visit to the museum dedicated to him reveals the painter's private life and sheds light on the love he had for his pets, so often depicted in his paintings.
Fragonard in Grasse
As far back as the Middle Ages, Grasse, situated on the hills above Cannes, was the darling of perfumers for the essences, ointments and powders that only it knew how to make. A few centuries later, commissions poured in from all over Europe to the studio of the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a native of the region born in 1732, whose works still hang in the world's greatest museums, including the Louvre in Paris.
An opulent past to be discovered with your nose in the air, breathing in the scents of orange blossom and wild strawberries that still waft around the medieval squares, bulging walls and dark vaults. Grasse has not only invented some of the world's most famous perfumes (Chanel N°5, Eau Sauvage, Poison...). The town is now a major player in the battle for food flavourings, employing more than 250 'noses'. A nose? A nose is an artist capable of composing a perfume by combining a multitude of rare essences. A bit like a painter using tubes of colour to create a masterpiece.
Signac in Saint-Tropez
It was aboard his yacht L'Olympia that Paul Signac discovered Saint-Tropez in 1892, before buying a house there and setting up a studio. This small fishing port, with its narrow streets, grandmothers in aprons and fragrant market, is transformed into a jet-set haunt during the summer. Away from the hustle and bustle, the Musée de l'Annonciade is a reminder that Saint-Tropez was one of the most active centres of avant-garde painting in the early 20th century. In the coolness of this beautiful chapel, you can savour the paintings by Signac, Picabia and Monet, which, in a firework display of colour, depict Saint-Tropez at the beginning of the 20th century, when the beautiful tartanes, the Mediterranean sailing boats, glided along the peninsula.