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An early Chagall painting of Lozna, near Vitebsk, 1908

The world’s most famous artists – from Henri Matisse to Jack Vettriano – have chosen to make the Riviera their home. In the final instalment 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.  

Colourful, light-hearted, whimsical… the adjectives used to describe Marc Chagall’s creations are not those stereotypically associated with Russian art. Yet this playful painter was born in Vitebsk, Belarus (part of Russia at the time), in 1887. Always drawn to the otherworldly, images such as technicolour roosters, couples embracing and flying goats appeared early in his artworks.

It was in 1937 that Chagall chose to take French citizenship. The artist was enamoured with the country’s ethereal light. He spent much of the rest of his life in and around the South of France’s vibrant coastline, which the artist found a natural fit for his wild imagination.

One of the Chagall’s most legendary local projects was a series large paintings, each one depicting a major event in the first two books of the Bible. He may have been Jewish, yet Chagall was a passionate observer of the rites of all major religions. In fact, this series was originally planned for display in the Catholic Calvary Chapel in Vence – a set-up eventually abandoned due to chronic damp conditions in the church.

Instead, the French government worked together with Chagall to create a brand-new museum to house these artworks. The result is the Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, inaugurated in Nice’s residential Cimiez neighbourhood in 1973. Chagall worked together with the architect, Andre Hermant, to create the perfect layout for his works – thus becoming the first living artist in France to have a museum specifically designed and constructed for his artworks.

Chagall passed away in 1985. His grave, dotted with wildflowers and mementos left by fans, is located in the picturesque cemetery in St-Paul-de-Vence, the artist’s longtime residence.

Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall Avenue du Docteur Ménard, Cimiez, Nice. Tel 04 93 53 87 20.

May–Oct Wed–Mon 10am–6pm, Nov–Apr Wed–Mon 10am–5pm.

Admission €8 adults, €6 students, free for under 18s. Extra fee for temporary exhibitions.

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