Nice Arts: Culture Along The Cote d’Azur

As published in The Jakarta Globe Newspaper:

Situated between the Mediterranean and the Alps, Nice la belle, or Nice the beautiful, is home to sun, sea and much more.

Originally coming to escape the chilly autumn of Paris, I enrolled in a French language course in the city that looks out to sea from the southern coast of France, better known as the Cote d’Azur or French Riveria .

My choice proved excellent, and outside of lesson time I spent most of my days lazing around on the rocky beach, sunbathing and eating crepes for lunch.

But soon I began to crave for more than just a beach holiday, and so I followed my host mother’s suggestion to discover the historical side of Nice.

I traveled uphill to the neighborhood of Cimiez, located in the opposite direction to Promenade des Anglais, the seafront bay where most tourists flock.

Cimiez is a hilly neighborhood where many museums and historical ruins are located.

Atop a hill covered by dense trees, Cimiez offers a breeze that makes a stroll very enjoyable.

There are attractions to be found in Cimiez, such as the Matisse Museum, the historical ruins of Cemenelum, the Marc Chagall Museum and the Cimiez Monastery.

As fate would have it, my visit would be one for fans of French art — not a bad thing!

Early one morning, the sun rays beamed through the trees covering the path to Cimiez and brought warmth to what would have otherwise been another chilly European autumn day.

I climbed energetically along the hilly road, enjoying the scenic view of Nice stretched below.

For those not keen to walk, a public bus is available for just 1 euro ($1.30).

It wasn’t long before I reached my first destination: Musee National Message Biblique Marc Chagall (Marc Chagall Museum of Biblical Themes) — a museum dedicated to the biblical paintings of 20th century French-Russian artist Marc Chagall.

Unlike many museums in Paris, which often occupy massive buildings, the Chagall Museum is rather small.

This white one-story structure looks more like a wealthy modern house than an art repository.

I made my way through the well-manicured park to the friendly receptionist and paid 5.50 euros for entrance and an audio guide.

I had never heard of Chagall so I didn’t know what to expect from his work. I admit I’m no art connoisseur, but as soon as I entered the main gallery, the blast of color blew me away.

Hanging thematically on the wall are collections of larger-than-life canvases depicting scenes of the Old Testament.

The imagery captured my attention in an instant, luring me to analyze every canvas in great detail.

The audio guide did a very good job in explaining the paintings in a way that was understandable to novices like me.

Marc Chagall was a Jewish Russian-born painter, and one of the prominent painters of the Golden Age in France, along with other famous artists including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Chagall, who lived from 1887 to 1985, is considered the father of modernism.

Picasso praised Chagall highly, saying that when Matisse died, Chagall would be the only painter left who understands what color really is.

And Picasso sure knew his colors!

Chagall’s paintings are characterized by vibrant strokes depicting biblical stories.

Every inch of every canvas — which featured a main biblical story in the center and other supporting events portrayed on the side — is filled with symbolism waiting to be noticed.

In his paintings, Chagall never attempted to imitate nature but rather used bright colors to suggest movements and rhythms.

Looking at the canvases, I felt like I was reading gigantic high-art bible comics and discovering that every inch held a certain meaning and formed a component of a larger story.

Chagall’s paintings are not only beautiful but thought-provoking and deeply moving.

They offer visitors — of any faith — a different perspective on well-known biblical stories.

The audio guide walked me through the 17 paintings.

Twelve were interpretations of the “Genesis” and “Exodus” parts of the Old Testament, while the other five paintings were based on the “Song of Songs of Solomon” and are stored in a special chamber Chagall dedicated to his wife, Vava.

All paintings were carefully laid out by Chagall himself as donations to the state of Nice.

Other works by Chagall were incorporated into the building’s design: the stained-glass windows in the concert hall and the intricate mosaic overlooking the water feature the symbols of the 12 signs of the zodiac.

Three hours past as I browsed the collection, but I barely noticed the time. In the relaxed atmosphere of the museum, I fell into an elusive dream of happy summer days in Nice.

Feeling energized, I moved to my next stop, the Musee Matisse, which hosts artworks of the aforementioned Matisse, who lived from 1869 to 1954.

I earlier saw a renowned painting by Matisse, “La Blouse Roumaine,” at the Centre Pompidou, a modern art museum in Paris, and was instantly captivated by the artist.

Matisse is one of the most prominent French painters of the 20th century and is often called Picasso’s rival, so I was looking forward to see more of his work.

Finding my way through the beautiful olive grove, I reached the museum building — an artwork in itself.

The building is a complete renovation of a 17th-century Genovese villa, a not-uncommon sight given Italy and its Mediterranean port of Genoa is just a boat ride away.

Painted pink, the museum pops out of Cimiez’s green surroundings. But once inside, trickles of disappointment creep in. While the museum hosts many Matisse originals and some rare artworks in a variety of mediums, the collections are poorly arranged.

It was dimly lit, but at least the entrance is free, so there was no wasted money to complain about.

The museum presented Matisse artworks in chronological order.

Several life-sized human sculptures occupy the first floor, while the upper level mainly hosts Matisse paintings, sketches and 236 drawings, including his famous “Blue Nude” series.

Strolling through the arts was pleasing to the eye but not very informative, as the descriptions placed next to each artwork were often short, incomplete and hard to read in the low lighting.

On a beautiful day like this it is indeed better to be outdoors.

History buffs can choose to walk around the nearby Roman ruins, located just next to Musee Matisse or visit another museum nearby, Musee d’Archeologie — unfortunately closed during my visit.

A painting by Chagall. (JG Photo/Nadia Bintoro)I strolled around, watching families enjoying picnics under olive trees with children playing ball-game petanque in the museum yard.

Their laughter was carried away by the warm autumn breeze.

I took a deep breath and thought sun, beach, and art. What more could I want?

Download PDF:

Nice Arts: Culture Along The Cote d’Azur

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s