The world’s most famous artists – from Henri Matisse to Jack Vettriano – have chosen to make Nice their home. In the first of a five-part blog series, we investigate what it is about this strip of sun-drenched coastline that inspired these great artists – and where they spent their time in the region.
One of the 20th century’s most iconic painters, Henri Matisse was born in Pas-de-Calais in northern France in 1869. This northern French region presses up against the chilly Belgian border. At the end of the 19th century, it was best known as a land that produced textiles, coal and mountains of beetroot.
A sun-splashed world of colour, the Mediterranean coastline couldn’t have been further away from Pas-de-Calais. And in fact, it was this radical contrast that so enchanted Matisse when he first visited Nice in 1917.
First bedding down in the Hôtel Beau Rivage – still a popular hotel today – Matisse’s small apartment possessed what all Riviera residents continue to lust after: a large, sunny window, and an unobstructed sea view. Describing his fascination in a letter to a friend, he wrote “Ah! Nice is a beautiful place! What a gentle and soft light in spite of its brightness!”
Tip your head towards the Colline du Château, Nice’s elevated park. At the southern end of the cours Saleya stands 1 place Charles Félix, Matisse’s residence for close to two decades. Simply stand in front of the façade and imagine the sweeping panoramas (the artist lived on both the third and fourth floors at different times), and it’s easy to see why Matisse was so inspired by the city.
The great artist bounced among other local residences, including Villa le Rêve, opposite his Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence. And Matisse, his family and his entourage of models made the Hôtel Régina, in Nice’s elegant suburb of Cimiez, their home on and off for the final 15 years of the artist’s lifetime.
Just opposite, art aficionados may head to the Musée Matisse to take in the French Riviera as seen through Matisse’s eyes – and brushstrokes.