The Chagall Museum
Update 2021: Online reservations now required, see below for link
“When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.”
The Musée Marc Chagall was created with the cooperation of the artist himself, who not only curated the exhibit, but installed the immense mosaic, designed the stained glass for the concert hall, specified the layout of the gardens, and chose the exact placement of each of his works in the museum. It is the largest public collection of his work.
The museum’s core is a series of large paintings illustrating the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis and Exodus, plus Solomon’s Song of Songs, which is a biblical meditation on sexual, spiritual and sensual love.
How to get there:
Catch the Bus #5 Rimiez Saint-George from behind Nice Etoile Shopping Center (tram stop Jean Médecin), behind Galeries Lafayette (tram stop Massena), or anywhere on rue Geoffredo (tram stops Opera, Cathédrale, or Garibaldi) which runs one block inland from the Promenade du Paillon gardens. The Bus #5 runs every 8-10 minutes, even on Sundays. Here is more on taking the bus to the Chagall and Matisse museums.
Once the bus is well up the hill and you have a great city view to your left, you know your stop is getting close. After you pass the ‘Rolland Garros’ stop, push the red button and get off at the ‘Musée Chagall’ stop. The museum is via the road on your left. The museum is on Avenue Docteur Menard, which is just off Boulevard de Cimiez.
If you don’t want to bother with the bus, an easy option is to take an Uber-X taxi, which would cost around 6-7€ from the Old Town. Don’t take a regular taxi as it would cost 15-20€ or more. If you take a car, the museum has free parking.
Address: 36 Avenue Dr Ménard, Cimiez
Hours: 10am to 6pm from May-October, 10am-5pm in winter. Closed on Tuesdays, plus May 1, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Reservations: The museum is small and has limited capacity, and is the only museum in Nice that takes reservations. Click here to reserve your entry time… This is also where you can reserve for concerts and cultural events periodically held at the museum; and if you just want to visit the gardens (free) and maybe sit and have a bite at the little snack bar, you can reserve a time for that free entry as well.
Tickets: 10€ for adults, but only 8€ for young adults 18 to 25-years-old that live outside the EU. For those under 26-years-old that live in the European Union, the museum is free, and also free for all children and teens under 18.
Entry is Free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month. This is the only museum in Nice that does that.
Passes: The Chagall museum is not one of the municipal museums, so it is not included in the blue Pass Musée good for the 10 municipal museums in Nice. However the Chagall museum is included in the French Riviera Pass. Click here for more info on the various museum passes.
Free Audioguides: The Chagall Museum offers free audioguides via QR codes for your smartphone; just bring earbuds and have a QR reader on your phone. I highly recommend taking advantage of these free online audioguides, as they can really enrich the experience, especially if you are not familiar with the details of the Bible stories depicted. The commentary is available in English, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and of course French.
Gardens: Be sure to wander and explore the gardens, which were designed by Chagall down to the smallest detail.
Snack bar: This is the only museum in Nice with a snack bar, so give those museum-weary feet a rest and grab a bite or just sip a glass of rosé in these peaceful zen-like gardens.
Concerts: The museum holds occasional evening classical and jazz concerts in the gorgeous circular stained-glass auditorium, click on the museum website for more information and here to reserve your place. The bus #5 runs until 1am, so you can attend these concerts/films using public transportation, or just take an Uber. There is also free parking at the museum.
The Life of Chagall
Chagall was born into Russian poverty (his father was a herring merchant) and he went on to live a life encompassing nearly 100 years. He lived the Russian revolution, arrived in Paris not speaking a word of French, returned to his village to marry his fiancé and was then trapped in Russia during WWI. He returned to Paris to become one of the Modernist masters, but even this couldn’t save him as a Jew during WWII and his family had to be smuggled out of France to America. During this time his Jewish hometown was decimated from a population of over 200,000 to just 118 survivors.
Despite this, his work is infused with joy and optimism, whimsical dreamlike symbols, and always evoking his humble childhood and faith.
Chagall on the French Riviera
Chagall lived his final years in Saint Paul de Vence from 1966-1985, where he was constantly in motion on new projects, even up to the day he died at age 97 (his tomb can be found in the Saint Paul de Vence cemetery). His works can be found up and down the coast …and sometimes crop up in surprising places, like at the winery Sainte Roseline where a Chagall mosaic covers a wall in the chapel, or in the back of L’Ane Rouge restaurant in the Nice Port, where you can find a red ceramic donkey, a gift to his stubborn red-haired mistress Anne, who he affectionately nicknamed L’Ane Rouge (the red donkey), and who then gave the name to her restaurant.
In the Steps of Chagall tours in English are available from the St Paul de Vence tourist office upon request: Tel. 04 93 32 86 95 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. They charge 7€ a person if they have a group, otherwise they’ll do a private tour for 14€ a person, 2 person minimum.
For more on Chagall I recommend this great site I Travel With Art – Chagall.
While you’re up on Cimiez…
Continue walking up beautiful Boulevard de Cimiez for 15-minute uphill (or hop back on bus #5 and stay on for a couple more stops) and you’ll come to the equally fabulous Matisse Museum, plus other great sites to see at the Cimiez gardens: Roman Bath ruins, a Roman coliseum, a 2000-year-old olive grove, a Franciscan Monastery with fabulous Italian-style gardens (open to the public), and a small but interesting Franciscan Friar museum in the church.
- Back up to main Art Museums page
Photo credits: Paintings in Chagall museum by Antostudio licensed under creative commons.