Monet to Matisse
One cannot speak of France, especially Provence, without falling under the charm of her art and artists. For over a century, artists of every style and school have flocked to Provence in search of vivacious colors and translucent light.
Van Gogh settled in Arles in 1888. His best known works are the Sunflowers, the Yellow House and Les Alyscamps, which he painted with Gauguin.
Cézanne returned frequently to his native Provence for inspiration, spending a total of 45 years in Aix en provence. He painted landscapes, still life and seascapes and his beloved Mont Ste Victoire, 80 times.
Renoir set up home in Cagnes sur Mer near Nice in 1907, where he continued to paint. The Domaine des Collettes and its lovely garden shaded by olive trees are open to the public and I have been to some wonderful classical concerts here in these gardens. Eleven of his paintings are on display and most of the artist’s sculptures.
Attracted by the Mediterranean light, Monet spent some time in Antibes, completing two well-known works, Antibes effet d’après-midi and Antibes vue de la Salis.
Matisse relocated to Cimiez, a hill quartier in Nice, where he evolved from fauvism to post-war modern style. I have frequently visited the Matisse Museum in Cimiez as it is just down the road, though perhaps his greatest work remains the Chapel ceiling in nearby Vence.
In 1946 Picasso stayed in the Grimaldi Castle in Antibes and decided to embellish it with his works. He donated 23 paintings and other works, a collection enriched by further donations and displayed in the castle, which became the Picasso Museum.
What a privilege to have so many precious canvasses on my doorstep.
Tyrant or hero? Opinions vary enormously here in France about this diminutive leader. However, what is undeniable is that he left his mark both on France and on Europe. What the British tend to remember about him is his ignominious defeat in Belgium at Waterloo, but there is a little more to the emperor than just this. Physically I have lost count of the number of times I have seen his initial ‘N’ carved into stone: on Corsica –his island of birth, on Elba – his island of exile and all over France. One of the most beautiful roads to take on a motorbike here is the Route Napoleon.
Possibly his most enduring and most renowned legacy is The Napoleonic code. This was adopted in many of the European lands he conquered, and remained in force after Napoleon’s defeat. The Code still has importance today in a quarter of the world’s jurisdictions including in Europe, the Americas and Africa.
A lesser-known fact is that Napoleon emancipated Jews (as well oppressed Catholics and Protestants) from laws that limited them to living in ghettos, and he increased their rights to property, worship, and careers.
He had a vision not only of the modern nation state, but also for a unified Europe, a harmonious union among the diverse peoples of a continent that had been war-torn for many centuries. I believe the means he used to pursue this goal were oftentimes tyrannical, but I do think he probably set many significant democratic wheels in motion for this continent.
Yes we have our own small opera house in Nice in the style of the Belle Époque. It is not on the grand scale of La Scala in Milan, but it opens its doors annually to some outstanding opera companies and has been my introduction, to my joy, of this musical genre. I can get a standing places in les Paradis for just 12 euros!
Opera developed in Italy towards the end of the XVIth Century. A hundred years later, it had spread to other European countries. The spread of it from Italy to Nice was assured by political events. The County of Nice was part of the Duchy of Savoy (part of the Kingdom of Sardinia). The origin of Nice’s opera house goes back to 1776 when a wealthy noble family, the Alli-Maccaranis, obtained permission from the King of Sardinia, Amadeus III, to transform their old mansion into a theatre house. The first building on this site was made out of wood. As France modernized, many old buildings were torn down and rebuilt out of more solid materials. In 1826, Nice purchased the theatre from the Alli-Maccarani. This was done in order to build an Italian-style opera house, befitting a growing city like Nice.