The Matisse Museum 

Musée Matisse Nice.JPG

The Musee Matisse holds one of the world’s largest collections of his works, and traces his evolution from his beginnings through his last works.

How to get there:  Take bus 15, 17, 20, or 25, bus stop Les Arènes / Musée Matisse. Click here for how to get to the Matisse Museum by bus.

If you don’t want to bother with the bus, an easy option is to take an Uber-X taxi, which would cost around 8-9€ from the Old Town.  Don’t take a regular taxi as it would cost 15-20€ or more.

Address:  164 avenue des Arènes de Cimiez, Tel: (+33) (0)4 93 81 08 08.

Hours: 10am to 6pm; closed Tuesdays, May 1, Easter Sunday, Christmas and Jan. 1.

Tickets: 10€ for adults, or 20€ for 7-day municipal museum card good for 14 museums and galleries in Nice.  Free for children under 18, students of any age with student ID, locals with the blue Pass Musee, or with the French Riviera Pass.  Click here for more info on the various museum passes.

How to see it:   The best way to see it is semi-chronological, so ignore the ‘sens de la visite’ arrows and instead go left down the stairs and first do to the rooms to your right, then do the rooms to your left, and only then go up to the second floor.  Unfortunately there are no audioguides yet, and the English explanations are rather limited.

Tours in English: Guided tours are available for 6€ per person at 3:30pm on Monday, Thursday and Friday in English, Italian, German and French.  (Or on request, subject to availability, call +33 (0)4 9353 4053)

MATISSE IN NICE

Matisse was already a successful artist when he came to Nice alone in December 1917 at the age of 48 to treat his bronchitis. He booked a month at the seaside The Hotel Beau Rivage in Old Nice but it rained every single day, so he sadly painted the interior of his drab hotel room over and over. On the final day the sun came out, and when he saw the light he was hooked! He later wrote:

“I left L’Estaque because of the wind, and I had caught bronchitis there.  I came to Nice to cure it, and it rained for a month.  Finally I decided to leave.  The next day the mistral chased the clouds away and it was beautiful.  I decided not to leave Nice, and have stayed there practically the rest of my life.”

For the rest of that winter, he rented an apartment on Mont Boron, then an apartment next to the Hotel Beau Rivage; and for the next few winter/spring seasons rented a suite at the Palais de la Mediterranee.

In the winter of 1921, he moved to Nice permanently, taking an apartment in the big yellow building at the top of Cours Saleya, where he would stay and paint for the next 17 years; his most prolific and joyous period.  First he lived on the third floor with view out on to the market, later moving up to the 4th floor penthouse with the wrap-around terrace.

During this period, Matisse was working on a project that was just too big for his apartment on Cours Saleya.  So just across the Promenade du Paillon gardens, on the street on the right side of the Lycee Massena, he converted a garage at 8 rue Desire-Niel into an enormous studio, and this is where he created his most famous painting, The Dance.

In 1938 Matisse moved up to Cimiez, where he bought 2 large apartments on the 3rd floor of the Regina, which he furnished with many of the artifacts currently on display at the museum.  He lived at the Regina for the rest of his life,  except towards the end of WWII when he moved to Villa Le Reve in Vence to escape the threat of bombing, and ended up staying 5 years.  He finished his life at the Regina, where he died in November 1954, and is buried in the Cimiez Cemetery.

For more details and to see more photos, download the brochure Retracing Matisse’s Footsteps on the French Riviera:  click for English, then click the ‘Nice’ button on the left, then click ‘Sur la route de Matisse‘.

WHILE YOU’RE UP ON CIMIEZ…

Be sure to go around to the back of the Matisse Museum and peer through the fence for a view of the impressive ruins of the enormous Roman bath complex that used to occupy this site (and which you can see in more detail from the Archaeology Museum, a 5-minute walk).  From the front of the Matisse museum you are looking out at a 2000-year-old olive grove with the ruins of a Roman Amphitheater to your left, and if you walk a bit to your right you will come upon an ancient Franciscan Monastery with magnificent Italian-style gardens to explore (free), and a tiny Friar’s museum in the church, which is really quite interesting, especially the room dedicated to the Shroud of Turin (the burial cloth that may or may not show the imprint of Christ’s body), which was held in Nice for a time in the 14th century.  Behind the Monastery you’ll come upon a cemetery, where you can find Matisse’s surprisingly sober tomb as well as that of artist Raoul Dufy.

By the way, the paths in the Cimiez gardens are all named after jazz musicians because this olive grove was the site of the Nice Jazz Festival until just a few years ago when it moved down to Place Massena.

As you walk out of the Cimiez gardens, you will see the Regina.  This former hotel was built specifically for Queen Victoria’s annual vacations in Nice. This is where Matisse lived and had a giant workshop in his last years, and where, after his hands were too crippled to paint, he created many of his giant joyous collages.

If you want to now visit the Chagall Museum, just pass the Regina and walk down the scenic tree-lined boulevard de Cimiez for 15-minutes (it’s all downhill).   Or take Bus #15 toward Nice for 6 stops, to the Musee Chagall bus stop.

Photo credits: Matisse Museum by Tubantia, Cours Saleya by Patrice Sameria, licensed under creative commons.  Matisse’s The Dance is in the public domain.

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