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Musings from Museums of French Riviera

Throughout history, regions of the French Riviera saw a development of vibrant visual vocabulary ranging from neoclassical sculptures to impressionist representations of the idyllic beauty of communes.

The museums have preserved these magnificent gems of cultural heritage, while artfully traversing its evolution, against the backdrop of global art narratives which saw transformations, rejuvenation, and reinvention.

By Shalini Passi founder of MASH and Shalini Passi Art Foundation

New National Museum of Monaco

One of the last examples of Belle Epoque architecture, this late 19th-early 20th century villa was bought by London artist Robert Hermann Sauber in 1904. Villa Sauber was turned into a Museum in 1972, and has been hosting exhibitions like Villa Paloma since then.

The latest exhibit is a solo show dedicated to the outstanding oeuvre of German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton. Titled ‘Newton, Riviera’, the exhibition featured Newton’s prolific photographic artworks produced between 1960-2004. Curated by Guillaume de Sardes & Matthias Harder, the photographs feature an intangible relationship between Newton’s creative idiosyncrasies and the landscapes of the riviera.

Shalini Passi at Hôtel Hermitage, Monte-Carlo, Monaco

New National Museum of Monaco, Villa Sauber, Monaco

Helmut Newton Exhibit at New National Museum of Monaco, Monaco

Oceanographic Museum of Monaco

The Oceanographic Museum was inaugurated in 1910 by Prince Albert I, who had taken keen interest in oceanographic studies, anthropology, palaeontology, and geography. Jacques Yves Cousteau was the director of the museum from 1957 to 1988, under whom the collection of the museum grew significantly.

The museum’s sea-facing facade and the chambers are a remarkable specimen of Baroque Revival architecture, the building is mainly divided into three sections: the Whale room, Prince Albert’s room on the first floor dedicated to expeditions by Prince Albert I, and the third section consists of Oceanomania, an installation by renowned conceptual artist Mark Dion, a large cabinet that consists of marine world curios.

The museum had also exhibited exceptionally eclectic sculptures by renowned British artist and sculptor Damien Hirst on a part of centenary celebrations, bringing artistic endeavours and scientific perspectives closer.

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nice

The museum was established in a villa that was built in 1878 by Russian princess Elizaveta Vasilievna Kochubey. Established under the name of French lithographer Jules Cheret, the collection consists of gifts from Mesdames Bashkirtseff, Ziem, Clément-Carpeaux, Dufy, Baron and Baroness Vitta, Maurice Fenaille and Gustav-Adolf Mossa, more recently bequests from Mesdames Odette Avigdor d'Acquaviva and that of Madame Ethel Messiah.

In 2002, the museum recieved an important donation consisting of 75 sculptures by Michel de Tarnowsky, a 19th century French sculptor of Polish descent. The grandiose atmosphere of the museum is accentuated by the gigantic staircase in the hallway, a specimen of Belle Epoque style. Some of the important artists whose works are part of the collection are Raoul Dufy, Agnolo Bronzino, Pablo Picasso, Gust-Adolf Mossy, Eugene Delacroix, Louisa Brea, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard, and Kisling among others.

MAMAC ( Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Nice)

Founded in 1990, MAMAC as an institution has been dedicated to the development of modern and contemporary art, prominently charting the trajectories of creative narratives in the 1950s and 1970s France, as a post-war world saw a novel understanding of abstraction and role of art in the political, societal, and sociological realms. The museum owns oeuvres of Niki de Saint Phalle, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Arman, Ben and groups such as Supports/Surface along with various renowned figures from the American Pop art era, owning 1400 works by 374 artists.

Ben Vautier, Ben’s Room, Mixed media, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Nice

The museum has brought fore works by artists who experimented in the fields of New Realism, Minimal art, Conceptual art, The Fluxus Group, and Figuration Libre.

Martial Raysse, Nissa Bella, Mixed media, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Nice

Picasso Museum

Once known as the Greek town of Antipolis, the port city of Antibes is known for its mesmerising skylines that are accentuated by the beauty of the towering Picasso Museum, facing the azure waters of the Mediterranean sea. The commune’s Grimaldi palace was once the residence of Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential figures of the 20th century modern art narrative.

Pablo Picasso, Lust for life (Pastorale), Oil on canvas, Picasso Museum, Antibes

In 1946, on the suggestion of Romuald Dor de la Souchère, the museum’s curator, Picasso had set up his studio in one of the rooms of Chateau Grimaldi, creating a spectacular body of work consisting of 23 paintings and 44 drawings. He kept revisiting the town over the years, strengthening an intangible bond between the commune and the artist.

Joan Miro, La déesse de la mer, Picasso Museum, Nice

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild Museum

A specimen of architectural and artistic magnificence, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild was designed by French architect Aaron Messiah in the early 20th century for Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild. It is now owned by the Académie des Beaux-Arts, and operates as a museum. The pastel pink villa is surrounded by nine exquisite gardens that embody different themes namely: Spanish garden, Florentine garden, French garden, stone garden, Japanese garden, exotic garden, Provençal garden and rose garden. Every summer, the villa opens its doors to a summer art festival in the month of June, inviting artists from all over the world, to celebrate the creative spirit of the region.

Sculpture of Aphrodite, Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild French Garden, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Interiors of Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild Museum, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Text by Shalini Passi

Image Courtesy: Shalini Passi, Museums, and Galleries

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