Today I made an impromptu visit to two museums in Grasse while in town for other reasons. I’d been to the Musée provençal du costume et du bijou before but I’d never been to the Musée Fragonard almost next door. Both are tiny and both are free, so with a few minutes to spare I thought I could get some fodder for my Museum Monday series.
Firstly let me explain that the Musée Fragonard (Fragonard Museum) is not the historic perfume factory (Parfumerie Fragonard) that’s open to visitors close by which gets called the Fragonard Museum erroneously, it’s actually a museum dedicated to the paintings of the eponymous Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). If you look up the Fragonard Museum on TripAdvisor nearly all the reviews are for the factory visit, so try not to get confused (as clearly most people are!) Just to add to the confusion there’s also the Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard in Grasse. This one comes up if you do a search for museums in Grasse online as it’s a municipal museum rather than private which both the historic factory and Fragonard painting museum are. Confused? I know I was when I started looking into all this. But it’s not finished, just to throw one last ingredient into the tumultuous mix, Fragonard, Grasse’s most famous son, surprisingly had nothing at all to do with perfume; he was a painter and the perfume house of Fragonard was simply named after him as a tribute.
OK, now that that’s all clear, let’s get on with the museum visits! First up I popped into the Provencal Museum of Costume and Jewellery, a rather grand name for 4 tiny rooms of women’s dresses from the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly from Provence but not exclusively and one small room of jewellery, mainly crosses. It may be small but it’s charming and as it’s free there’s really no reason not to take a peak. The embroidered and printed fabrics of the dresses, in silk and cotton are just so pretty I could look at them for hours. The changing styles are interesting too but for me it’s all about the patterns.
The exhibition is laid out over one floor of a handsome hôtel particulier (grand townhouse) formerly the residence of the Marquise of Cabris. The rooms are painted in tones of grey and ochre, with shuttered windows only slightly open, just enough to get glimpses out over the Grasse rooftops, but not enough to let in significant amounts of light. Each exhibit is individually lit, with the dresses displayed on mannequins in glass domes. I think it’s lovely; it’s simple, effective and easy to view. However, being a private collection, photos are not allowed (ahem)….I risked a few of the overall look of the place trying not to focus on the items themselves which I hope won’t get me into trouble but will give you an idea of what to expect.
Each room has information panels in French, but there are no other languages, neither in pamphlet form, nor general notices. I don’t think it really matters if you can’t read French as the beauty of the costumes speak for themselves and dates are readable in any language. For anyone interested in the history of costume and fashion, or simply a love of fabrics like me, this museum is a little gem.
photo of a souvenir postcard from the museum
A few doors along the same street as the costume museum you’ll find the Fragonard Museum (and actually only a few metres the other way lies the perfumerie, they are all very close to each other). This museum is located in a historic building, the Hôtel de Villeneuve, an 18th century mansion spread over 3 floors. At the time of my visit the ground floor was hosting a temporary exhibition about trompe l’oeil paintings and the lower level was dedicated to celebrating the 90th anniversary of Fragonard perfumes. It is on the first floor that you find the permanent collection of Fragonard’s paintings and drawings, as well as paintings by two other painters from Grasse, Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835) and Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837).
The collection of over a dozen of Fragonard’s major works along with 9 little drawings that had been lost and were only refound in 2013 is the biggest in France after the Louvre. As I’ve admitted before I know very little about the history of art and I have to admit that I don’t know Fragonard’s work at all. I liked a couple of the paintings but overall his Rococo style didn’t really appeal to me. However, as with the costume museum, this place is free so you’ve got nothing to lose by taking a quick look around to see what you think. The building is attractive, worthy of a visit in itself with a lovely fresco on the ceiling of the ground floor and beautiful floors made of parquet, herringbone brick and hexagonal terracotta tiles. Once again the shutters are partially closed but if you peek through you can see the garden, stuffed with lavender, birds of paradise (strelitzias), jasmine and wisteria (among other plants that I didn’t recognise!) around a fountain. Unfortunately you can’t visit the garden (and photos aren’t allowed of the works either hence my shots of floors and ceilings!)
There is information about the paintings in French on each level and on the lower level the perfume exhibition is also translated into English. For English, Spanish, Italian and German there are laminated guides you can borrow from the information desk. This little museum has toilets, a gift shop and is fully accessible (with lifts), unlike the costume museum which has neither loos, nor shop nor lifts. I liked it more for the building than the works of art themselves but that’s just my personal feeling; I wouldn’t recommend it for children.
Le Musée provençal du costume et du bijou is open every day from 10.30 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 6.30 pm.
Le Musée Fragonard is open every day from 10.30 am – 1 pm and 2 pm – 6.30 pm.
They are both in rue Jean Ossola, at N° 2 and 14 respectively. Have you heard of Jean-Honoré Fragonard? Would you take a look around these museums?
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