If you appreciate art, Provence is the place to be. Many beloved French painters including Renoit, Picasso, Matisse and Chagall had homes here, and these have been turned into wonderful museums. Provence is also a great destination for contemporary art. Here’s our rundown on the top museums to visit while in Provence.
The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations (or MUCEM for short) is a relatively new addition to the local museums. The building is sublime and a real focal point of the rejuvenation that’s taken place in Marseille in recent years. It’s linked to the Panier, one of the oldest districts in Marseille and its neighbour, the old Fort Saint-Jean by spectacular walkways that will take your breath away. It has lots of art exhibitions inside and is a great spot for catching events, such as film screenings. Head to the roof for a beer or ice-cream and enjoy those amazing views.
Opening times: Wednesday to Monday, 10am to 8pm from 8 July until 3 September; 11am to 7pm from 4 September until 1 November; 11am to 6pm from 2 November until 30 April; 11am to 6pm from 2 May until 7 July
The Hôtel de Caumont used to be Aix‘s Conservatoire until they moved into purpose-built buildings on the other side of town. After a hefty facelift, it reopened to the public as an art gallery and museum. The building, tea room and gardens are truly stunning and worth a look in their own right. The exhibition space is small but perfectly formed, with a permanent display on local artists, including Cézanne. It holds one temporary exhibition at a time, with subjects ranging from Marilyn Monroe to the Italian Renaissance.
Opening times: Daily, 10am to 7pm from 1 May until 30 September; 10 am to 6pm from 1 October until 30 April
Renoir spent the remaining years of his life in the little town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, near Antibes and this museum is a wonderful opportunity to see where he worked and how he lived – it’s in the same villa. You can see his bedroom and workshop as well as 14 pieces of art and some of his sculptures. The villa is a fascinating place, with views over the Cap d’Antibes and gardens full of fragrant citrus groves and olive trees.
Opening times: Daily, except Tuesdays and specific bank holidays (25 Dec, 1 Jan and 1 May). From June to September, 10am to 1pm, 2pm to 6pm (gardens 10am to 6pm). From October to March, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 5pm. From April to May, 10am to 12pm, 2pm to 6pm.
The smart tree-lined neighbourhood of Cimiez in Nice has been home to many artists, but perhaps the most famous is Matisse. He lived in this villa from 1917 until his death in 1954 and it’s a great place to understand more about his life and his work. It has many of his paintings and lots of his personal objects, too.
Opening times: Monday, Wednesday to Sunday (closed Tuesday) 10am to 6pm (23 June until 15 October); 11am to 6pm (2 to 22 January/16 October to 31 December). Closed 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 25 December.
The Centre d’Art la Malmaison is housed in what used to be the Grand Hotel on the Croisette. The hotel was demolished and all that remains is the Games Room, where you can now find lots of artwork from the 20th and 21st centuries. It’s a great modern and contemporary art museum with fantastic temporary exhibitions. A must-see in this buzzing art town.
Opening times: July to August, Monday to Sunday, 11am to 8pm (Friday to 9pm); September, Monday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm; October to April, 10am to 1pm, 2pm to 6pm; closed on 1 January, 1 May, 11 November and 25 December. Closed May to June.
Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall – Nice
Marc Chagall (1887-1985) lived in Nice and is best known for his artistic interpretations of the stories of the Old Testament. This museum displays the religious paintings and stained glass that Picasso and others were said to adore. It hosts lots of concerts in its amphitheatre and houses 40 paintings in total.
Opening times: Monday, Wednesday to Sunday (closed Tuesday) 10am to 5pm (from November to April); 11am–6pm (from May to October). Closed 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 25 December.
The Musée Granet in Aix is the place to see everything to do with Cézanne, who lived locally. It’s actually in two separate buildings – the main one has Cézanne’s paintings and sculptures as well as temporary art exhibitions. The other building in Place Jean-Boyer houses a permanent collection of artwork that was bequeathed to the museum on its collector’s death. Both are small, but beautiful buildings and well worth a look as you walk around the town.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm; closed Monday.
The Old Town of Antibes is a memorable place, full of small streets and lots of character. At its heart, you’ll find the Picasso museum which is housed in the Château Grimaldi. Named after the family who arrived in the 14th century and built a castle on the foundations of the ancient Greek town, Antipolis, it later became property of the town. They invited Picasso to stay for six months in 1946 and when he left, he bequeathed 23 paintings and 44 drawings to the town. It’s a great opportunity to see some fantastic artwork in a spectacular location.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm; closed Monday.
You’ll find both the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in the Palais Longchamp in Marseille. Built in the 19th century, this palace is truly astonishing. When the city had a major water shortage and was suffering from cholera, they undertook a 10-year plan to build hundreds of aqueducts to transport clean water from the nearby Durance river. It was a huge architectural feat and one that was celebrated by building the Palais Longchamp, a beautiful palace in commemoration.
MAMAC (Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain) – Nice
This museum has a lot of modern American and European artwork by people such as Andy Warhol and Niki de Saint Phalle. Artwork from the 1960s includes Pop Art and New Realist art. It’s a lovely museum and if you head to the terrace, you’ll be able to see impressive panoramic views of Nice.
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday) 10am to 6pm (23 June to 15 October); 11am to 6pm (2 January to 22 January/16 October to 31 December). Closed 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 25 December.