“The whole future of art is to be found in the South of France,” declared Vincent Van Gogh, a northern artist with a southern sensibility.
While Impressionism emerged in Paris, Provence was the creative melting pot between the last quarter of the 19th century and the first of the 20th. Claude Monet and Jean Renoir, two leading lights, were entranced by the seductive landscape and intoxicating southern light. In their footsteps came French and foreign post-Impressionists, from Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin to Paul Cézanne, the greatest of them all.
The wave of avant-garde artists continued, from Picasso and Braque in their Cubist incarnations, to Chagall, Matisse and Dufy. Van Gogh and Gauguin are associated with Arles, Cézanne with Aix, while Signac and Matisse are linked to Saint Tropez and Nice. The Nabis were post-Impressionists who styled themselves as followers of Gauguin.
Bonnard, the painter of sensations, lived in a hillside villa above Cannes. Les Fauves, founded by Henri Matisse in 1905, were dubbed “wild beasts” for their fondness for lurid colours. Other Fauves included André Derain, Dufy, Marquet, Maurice de Vlaminck and Georges Braque. After passing the winter of 1916-17 in Nice, Matisse settled there. One of his most important works is the chapel in Vence.
Pablo Picasso lived on the Côte d’Azur, notably in Antibes and Juan les Pins, and worked on Cubism with Georges Braque in Céret in 1911. Picasso spent much of his life on the Mediterranean coast, and in 1946 he was given the keys of the Grimaldi Palace in Antibes to use as a studio. The château is now home to the Musée Picasso.
Another French artist, Jean Cocteau, came on holiday to Villefranche in 1925, and stayed to decorate the chapel of St Pierre and the mayor’s office in Menton.
At the end of the Second World War many artists were drawn to the South of France. Russian-born Marc Chagall settled in St Jean Cap Ferrat in 1949, where the azure blue light and seascapes inspired the artist with new ideas. His Bible-based works fill the Musée National des Messages Bibliques in Nice.
Nice was the base for a new school of artists in 1958, the Nouveaux Réalistes. The founders of this new movement – Yves Klein, Arman, Martial Raysse, César, Dufêne, Raymond Hains, Jean Tinguely, Jacques Villeglé, Spoerri and Italian born Ben Vautier – advocated the use of objects taken from contemporary life. Nouveau Réalisme is often presented as the French version of Pop Art. Paint tubes, trash cans, packaging and industrial waste are united to create a material surface.
Follow in the footsteps of the post-Impressionists
Read more about the cultural features of France in Insight Guides: France
This brand new edition Insight Guide to France features outstanding full-colour photography, with this edition containing over 250 brand new photographs, alongside illuminating explorations of all the...Read full description