The Best Art Museums
The French Riviera is a place full of wonderful places and attractions, and among them, its museums that signify to the importance of the region to arts and culture. The French Riviera has been a place of inspiration to the 19th and 20th century Grand Masters.
The list of artists who have painted the Riviera reads like a Who’s Who of 20th-century art. Picasso, Chagall, Renoir, Bonnard, Matisse, Braque, Cocteau, Dufy, Leger, and many others lived and worked here — and raved about the region’s wonderful light. Their simple, semi-abstract, and colorful works reflect the pleasurable atmosphere of the Riviera.
You’ll experience the same landscapes they painted in this bright, sun-drenched region, punctuated with views of the “azure sea.” Try to imagine the Riviera with a fraction of the people and development you see today. But the artists were mostly drawn to the un-complicated lifestyle of fishermen and farmers that has reigned here since time began.
As the artists grew older, they retired in the sun, turned their backs on modern art’s “isms,” and painted with the wide-eyed wonder of children, using bright primary colors, basic outlines, and simple subjects. A collection of modern-and contemporary-art museums dot the Riviera, allowing art lovers to appreciate these masters’ works while immersed in the same sun and culture that inspired them.
Many of the museums were designed to blend pieces with the surrounding views, gardens, and fountains, thus highlighting that modern art is not only stimulating, but sometimes simply beautiful. Entire books have been written about the modern-art galleries of the Riviera.
In this Iconic Riviera list, we will take you on a journey to the best art museums on the French Riviera:
Nice: Matisse Art Museum
Founded in 1963 nine years after the painter’s death, Musee Matisse boasts the largest collection of Matisse’s works, the galleries recount the artist’s development. You can witness the evolution from Matisse’s earliest works to his last creations.
The museum houses 68 paintings and gouaches, 236 drawings, 218 prints, 95 photographs, 57 sculptures, and 14 Matisse illustrated books, 187 painterly objects, and prints, tapestries, ceramics, stained glass, and documents. The museum also houses the artist’s sketches, paintings, and bronze sculptures, as well as some of his personal effects.
The collection is in a 17th-Century Villa des Arènes. The Matisse Museum is on the second floor, located within the archaeological site in Cimiez. The permanent collection of the museum consists of a variety of donations, mainly those of Matisse himself, who lived and worked in Nice from 1917 to 1954, and those of his heirs, as well as contributed works by the state.
|Open Hours: Daily (except on Tuesdays) from November to April from 10am to 5pm and from May to October from 10am to 5pm.|
Location: Just north of the main part of Nice (transportation options). 5 minutes walking to the Marc Chagall art museum.
Website: Official website
Nice: Marc Chagall Art Museum
This museum houses the world’s most extensive and significant collection of paintings by Marc Chagall. Most famously, this museum has the series of seventeen canvas that illustrate various biblical message from the books of Exodus, Genesis and the Song of Songs.
Following the popularity of Chagall’s work, this museum was built during the artist’s lifetime. He himself chose which of his works were to be placed in the museum. The collection is organized around the set of works produced by the painter on the themes of the Old Testament, supplemented by a substantial number of works of secular or religious inspiration: more than 400 paintings, gouaches, drawings, wash drawings, and pastels.
The first room holds twelve large-scale paintings illustrating the first two Old Testament books, Genesis and Exodus. In a second room, the smaller hexagonal room contains five compositions about the Song of Songs theme, another book of the Old Testament.
|Open Hours: Daily except on Tuesdays from May to October from 10am to 6pm and November to April from 10am to 5pm.|
Location: The north side of the city of Nice. 5 minutes walking to the Matisse art museum.
Website: Official Marc Chagall website
Nice: Modern & Contemporary Art Museum
The building is a magnificent work of modern art in itself, having marble-faced towers and glass corridors. The collection inside contains works by some of the contemporary artworks by 20th-century avant-garde artists.
The MAMAC (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art) opened in 1990, in the heart of Nice. This original architecture has an extensive permanent collection from the early sixties that traces the history of the European and American avant-garde. Its collection, focused on the postwar era, includes over 1,300 works by 300 artists. The collection, displayed on 2,400 square meters, focuses on the relationship between European New Realism and American expression of assembly art and pop art, linking regional and international art history.
Two modern art masters are on permanent display: Yves Klein, the fantastic blue monochrome inventor, fire paintings, and anthropometries. His solo room in Europe has no equivalent thanks to the Yves Klein Archives. The iconic female artist Niki de Saint Phalle, inventor of the Shooting Paintings and the voluptuous nanas, gave the MAMAC a significant donation in 2001, offering the museum the opportunity to become the second most important collection of her works in Europe.
|Open Hours: Open daily (except on Mondays) from 10am to 6pm. From November to April it’s open from 11am to 6pm.|
Location: Place Yves Klein in the center of Nice
Website: Official MAMAC website
Nice: Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts of Nice is set up in a former private residence which dates back to the late 19th century (the residence of Kotchubey, a Ukrainian Princess), some 200 meters north of Promenade des Anglais.
The museum opened in 1928, and its permanent exhibitions were amassed by grace of sundry art collectors who donated plenty of sculptural and pictorial works of art to the museum. The collections retrace the history of art from the 16th to the 20th century, with highlights referring to the works of Fragonard, Rodin, Rude, Ziem, Raffaelli, Boudin, Monet, Sisley, Van Dongen, Dufy, Cheret, Degas and plenty other artists.
Thus, the collections cover trends promoted by sundry Italian painting schools and artists, as well as more recent trends, such as Romanticism, Realism, Symbolism and Impressionism, which have marked the artistic scene since the 19th century onwards.
|Open Hours: Open daily (except on Mondays) from 10am to 6pm. From November to April it’s open from 11am to 6pm.|
Location: Near the beach in the center of Nice
Website: Official Musee Beaux Arts website
Antibes: Picasso Art Museum
Within the magnificent 12th century Chateau Grimaldi in Antibes, impressively positioned on the site of the ancient Greek city of Antipolis, Musée Picasso pays exceptional homage to the radical Spanish artist. This chateau hosted Picasso for a short period in the 1940’s, where he found his artistic spirit was inspired by the remarkable light found in this exquisite seaside hamlet.
The museum’s curator allowed Picasso to use the top floor as his studio, resulting in an incredible 23 paintings and 44 drawings. Upon leaving, Picasso donated his work to the museum, stipulating all should remain there permanently. Regularly visiting, he gradually expanded the broad collection, donating numerous drawings, prints, paintings and ceramics over time. This seaside hamlet was the first museum in the world to be dedicated to Picasso’s work.
His famous La Joie de vivre (Joy of Life) is among the works of the artist that are exhibited at Antibes. There are 245 works of Picasso in the museum in total, including paintings, sketches, prints, and ceramics. Some of the works of artists Leger and Miro can also be found inside the museum.
Check out our guide to Pablo Picasso’s history on the French Riviera.
|Open Hours: Daily (except on Mondays) from 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm. From mid-June to September it’s open from 10am to 6pm.|
Location: Central Antibes, in the old town by the water.
Website: Page about the museum on the Antibes city website.
Saint Paul de Vence: Fondation Maeght Art Museum
Situated on the Colline des Gardettes overlooking picturesque Saint-Paul de Vence, the Maeght Foundation is a world-leading private institution and modern art gallery housing collections with a world-class caliber. Designed by Josep Lluís Sert, a variety of renowned painters and sculptors collaborated with the Catalan architect to create a place where art, nature and architecture blend in perfect harmony.
St-Paul’s renowned art museum features one of the most important art collections in Europe, with works by leading 20th-century artists, including many who found inspiration along the French Riviera. It is a treasure trove from pieces by Georges Braque, Vassily Kandinsky, and Marc Chagall to unusual sculptures by Alberto Giacometti and glassworks by Joan Miró.
Works from the permanent collection are often confined to a single room so that temporary exhibits can be made. Josep Lluís Sert’s innovative building is fittingly experimental, and the garden is delightful.
Check out our complete guide to Fondation Maeght.
|Open Hours: Daily from July to September from 10am to 5pm, and October to June from 10am to 6pm.|
Location: A short walk from the town of Saint Paul de Vence, France
Website: Official Fondation Maeght website
Menton: Jean Cocteau Art Museums
The multi-talented Jean Cocteau converted the 17th-century fort into his personal museum, called La Bastion. Cocteau was a brilliant playwright, author, artist, designer, and film director. He donated his works such as tapestries, set designs, and drawings to the collection. There is another, new and nearby museum dedicated to the artist’s work, with exhibits from the collection of art the enthusiast Severin Wunderman.
French architect Rudy Ricciotti designed the Musée Cocteau’s 20,000 square foot building as a two-story trapezoidal structure marked on all four sides by a concrete colonnade. Along with making the building easily recognizable, the patio also protects the museum’s interior spaces from southern France’s intense sun. On its edges, a sequence of cuts “erodes” the roof slab, whose shape is inspired by that of sea waves, which become narrow skylights inside the building.
For decades, the museum has been dedicated to the French visual artist, writer, filmmaker, and playwright Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). He is one of the most influential figures in the European cultural scene and has had a long-standing relationship with Menton and the French Riviera. The permanent collection of the museum is based mostly on a donation by the Belgian-born American entrepreneur and collector Séverin Wunderman that includes about 1,800 pieces related to Cocteau and its cultural circle.
In a permanent exhibition at the basement level of the museum, articles from the collection are shown in rotation. The ground floor of the building is a spacious venue with no columns for temporary exhibits based on artists from whom Cocteau was friends, collaborated, or influenced.
|Open Hours: Daily (except Tuesdays) from 10am to 6pm.|
Location: Near the beach in central Menton.
Website: Official Jean Cocteau museum website
Menton: Fine Arts Museum, Carnoles Palace
A former summer palace of the Grimaldi princes of Monaco, this is now a museum of fine arts having an extensive collection. Housed in the Princes of Monaco’s former summer residence, the Carnolès museum houses a collection of paintings from the 13th century to the present day, as well as contemporary art exhibitions. In the heart of an extraordinary collection of citrus fruit, the garden also allows you to discover modern sculptures.
Even if it is turned into a museum of art, the architectural features of the Princes of Monaco’s former summer residence are adequate to excite the visitor’s curiosity. Golden doors, woodwork, stucco, beautifully painted ceilings and parquet floors— this house is a gem of the collections of ancient and modern paintings that it houses today.
The permanent exhibition includes works from the 13th to 20th century and of medieval Italians (from the 12th to the 15th centuries). Temporary exhibitions of modern art include works of Picabia, Dufy, and Delvaux from the Wakefield Mori holdings, and pieces from biennales and bequests by artists. There are also Greek icons, Flemish and Dutch schools, paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, etc., and contemporary sculptures in the citrus garden.
|Open Hours: Daily (except on Tuesdays) from 10am to noon, and 2pm to 6pm.|
Location: By the sea in Menton, walkable from Cap Martin.
Website: Page about the museum on the Menton city’s website
Cagnes-sur-Mer: Renoir Art Museum
Hoping for the climate to help ease his rheumatism, artist Auguste Renoir moved to Cagnes-sur-Mer. The house became a municipal museum during the 1960s.
The Renoir Museum is placed in the core of a remarkable 2.5-hectare estate planted with olive trees and citrus trees that gives way to a breathtaking view of Haut-de-Cagnes and over the Cap d’Antibes.
The collection of the museum— painting, sculptures, the workshop of the artist, and furniture— is proof of the last 12 years of Renoir’s life in Cagnes-sur-Mer. The artist’s house at Les Collettes now contains 10 of his paintings and some of the works of Bonnar. It also features the family’s furniture and fourteen original paintings and thirty sculptures by the artist.
|Open Hours: Daily (except on Tuesdays). From June to September from 10am to 1pm, and 2pm to 6pm. From October to March from 10am to 12pm and 2pm to 5pm. From April to May from 10am to 12pm and 2pm to 6pm.|
Location: The old town of Cagnes-sur-Mer, France
Website: Page about the Renoir museum on the Cagnes-sur-Mer website.
St-Tropez: Annonciade Art Museum
This museum houses art collections from masters like Bonnard, Dufy, and Signac. It opened in 1955. Located inside a chapel of the 16th century, this small museum is an excellent example of how at the beginning of the 20th century Saint Tropez was a vital avant-garde center.
Paul Signac was the painter who discovered this traditional fishing port in 1892 while traveling on his yacht Olympia around the French coast. He fell in love with the town and bought a house here where he set up a workshop, La Hune, which invited other famous artists like Matisse, Cross, Derain, or Marquet to join him.
The exhibited artists have based their work on the study of color, light, and shape. The entire collection consists of pictures of the highest range, which are necessarily part of the movements of the pointillists, Nabis and Fauvist. The village of Saint-Tropez is depicted in most of the works shown.
|Open Hours: Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 12pm and 3pm to 7pm. Closed in November.|
Cost: €6; Reduced rate and group: €4.
Location: By the port in St. Tropez, next to the Hermes boutique.
Website: Page about the museum on the St Tropez city website.
Cannes: La Malmaison Art Museum
The Centre d’Art La Malmaison (which translates to The Bad House, in English) exhibits art three times every year. La Malmaison Museum houses the 1863-built Grand Hotel’s game room and tea room. The rooms were used in 1945 for the organization of art exhibitions by Aimé Maeght, which were transformed into a museum in Cannes in 1983. This hotel-turned-museum gives tribute to notable painters such as Matisse, Ozenfant, and Picasso, a well-liked place for art enthusiasts. Exhibits also include works by 20th and 21st-century artists.
|Open Hours: La Malmaison is open throughout the year except for May and June.|
July to August: Monday to Sunday, 11am to 8pm (9pm on Friday)
September: Monday to Sunday, 10am to 7pm
October to April: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm and 2pm to 6pm.
Location: By the beach in Cannes
Website: Malmaison Exhibit Schedule
Roquebrune: Cap Moderne
The E-1027 house is one of the outstanding icons when it comes to modernity in architecture. The celebrated Irish designer Eileen Grey created this seaside villa together with the pieces of furniture inside. Murals from Le Corbusier are also present inside and outside.
Reservation is required to view the museums and you can get tickets here. Babies and children under 7 are not admitted. Check out our full guide to the story behind Cap Moderne’s E-1027 and La Cabanon.
|Open Hours: Open from 10am to 5pm daily except Mondays. In July and August tours start at 9:45am and 2:45pm. In September and October there is a tour at 1:45pm. |
Cost: Cap Moderne pre-booked tours costs €15 per person and take 2.5 hours, meeting at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin station.
Location: The permanent visitor center is in a former train carriage at the nearby SNCF station.
Website: Official Cap Moderne website