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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.

Les AlyscampsVan 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.


Antibes vue de la Salis - Monet

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.

Napoleon (1769-1821)

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.


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8 Responses to FRANCE M-O

  1. Patricia Tilton says:

    I am learning so much about art, history and music in France from someone who lives it daily — you can’t help but feel part of the past and present at the same time. What a treat to be so close to beautiful museums that hold the artwork of such extraordinary artists. And, I hadn’t realized that Napoleon was before his time with his vision of democracy and equality for all citizens. As you mentioned our interconnectedness in your last book, I think of the founding fathers in America (all freemasons who patterned our government after the democratic ideals of the freemasons in England) who carried equal visions of democracy, and of Napoleon who grasped a much bigger picture of Europe. They were all highly evolved and had to be connected at some level in holding the visions to create a unified world. I did not know Napoleon emancipated Jews – Wow!

    And of course, I love your opera house. I am such an opera fan, that I would love to sit in a real European opera house. You are surrounded by so many treasures.

    Maybe, I should cat sit those last 10 days of your trip, and take all of your beautiful country in. 🙂

    Can’t get enough of your stories of your beloved homeland.


    • Joanna says:

      I wish you and Ward could come, as you would relish the life here. I am getting so much out of simply reflecting on the richness around me. I don’t believe I have taken things for granted, as I try and very consciously live in the fulness of the now, but writing about what I observe and experience on a daily basis, takes it to a new level of appreciation. For my commute I usually choose to take the coast road and often verbalize thankfulness at the privilege of stunning Mediterranean most days of the year.

      I confess to adding the opera house for you, Pat!

      Now you have taught me something new. I wasn’t aware that the Pilgrim Fathers had strong connections with the Freemasons. I shall be picking your brain on so many things when we meet.

      Thank you for your enthusiasm.

  2. Diane says:

    Now I am the jealous one. Oh to be a stones throw from all that history, architecture and beautiful countryside. I love these posts of yours, where I am sent pouring over maps and photos I have here looking at the places of interest you have been pointing out. The buildings especially, steeped in history, always seem 10 times bigger and magnificent than ours, and I remember learning about Napoleon at school.
    .. more please.

    • Joanna says:

      Haha, you are just like me, Diane. As soon as I hear or read of distant places, I have to look at maps, and info and photos… can’t get enough! And you have already been here, which makes it all the more interesting, I think. P- R is scheduled for next Monday 😉

  3. This post, like all your alphabet posts, is fascinating! I love the paintings of Monet and Matisse, but only know them from books. The thought of being able to see such treasures “up close and personal” is almost beyond what my imagination can fathom (and you likely know I have a fairly good imagination!)

    I was unaware of the aspects of Napoleon’s life and career that you brought to the fore. It sounds as though he was foreseeing the creation of the European Union!

    And finally, I’m glad you treated Pat — and us — to the Opera House. Living as I do in a province where the oldest city buildings go back only to the late 1800s, the history and the opulent style of buildings such as that Opera House again stagger my imagination. What richness you are surrounded with daily — as I realize you are very aware.

    Looking forward to the next portion of the alphabet!

    • Joanna says:


      Thank you for your enthusiasm too. I wish you lived nearer and I could invite you to visit the art galleries and an opera…. as I know how much you would appreciate it all. It was also interesting for me to research a little more about this man Napoleon, and in so doing I came away with a far more positive impression than I had previously held.

  4. I agree with all the above comments. I have just recently visited Europe and have fallen hopelessly in love with Prague and Vienna (Berlin, I have a love-hate relationship with). But all your posts about Nice/France – just priceless, Joanna. It’s beautiful to vicariously experience everything through your eyes – such richness and textured quality in the way that you view the history, the city, the places. I am a regular theater goer as well and I soooo envy your Opera House. While we do have the Esplanade Theater here in Singapore (that kind of resembles the Sydney Opera House), I am sure that going to an actual European opera house would be a different otherworldly kind of experience.

    • Joanna says:

      While I know that the content of a play/opera/musical is the most important part of the event, location does influence too. I confess sitting in gilt, baroque surroundings in the Nice Opera House for a Handel opera, or in the Roman amphitheater in Orange to watch Roméo et Juliette, does enhance the experience for me. However, the acoustics are often far better in more modern buildings, which probably includes your Esplanade Theater.

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