This week I popped into the Picasso Museum in Antibes with my parents who were visiting from England. They’ve been to stay many times and have seen much that the Riviera has to offer but had never been to the Picasso Museum, nor had I for that matter. As enthusiastic history of art students (they have been studying for a few years and have travelled to many cities purely for the art) they jumped at my suggestion to go there and I think I probably enjoyed it more because of their knowledge than had I gone alone (more on this later).
The Picasso Museum is housed in an impressively positioned castle on the rampart walls of Antibes with views looking over the port, Salis bay, the Cap d’Antibes and out to sea. Its location is hard to beat and paying the small entrance fee for the views alone, even if you’re not massively interested in the art, is worth it I think. It’s also worth it for the actual building which has been sympathetically transformed into a bright well-lit gallery from a (no doubt dark) castle with an ancient history. Originally a residence for Bishops in the Middles Ages, the château became the home of the Grimaldi family in 1385 giving it its name Château Grimaldi. Over the years it was successively the residence of the King’s Governor, the Town Hall, military barracks and from 1925 a historical museum having been bought by the city of Antibes for this purpose.
Picasso’s link to the building came about when he visited the museum in 1945 and was offered space on the second floor to use as a studio. All in all he only spent a few months in Antibes in 1946 but it was a happy time, full of renewed hope and enthusiasm for life after the end of the Second World War and he produced numerous works of art during this short period. He donated 23 paintings and 44 drawings to Antibes on his departure which became the basis of the collection for the museum dedicated to him some 20 years later. In the late 1940s the museum held several exhibitions of Picasso’s work but it wasn’t until December 1966 that the Château Grimaldi officially became the Picasso Museum, thereby becoming the first museum in the world dedicated to his work.
Nowadays Picasso’s work is displayed on the top floor, in the space that was his studio, leaving the ground and first floor for other modern artists and temporary exhibitions. If you’re short of time and want to see Picasso’s work above all head straight to the top and work downwards. The collection is not large and for an amateur like me doesn’t contain any famous pieces. Don’t go expecting to see recognisable masterpieces or you’ll be disappointed.
Do go however for the lovely feeling of the place; the glimpses of azure sea through the narow windows, the beautifully worn terracotta tiles (different shapes in every room) and the details in the building such as carvings around doorframes and old beams. And do go of course for the lesser known but rather lovely works (mainly) depicting sea urchins, fish, octopus and mythical creatures such as fauns and centaurs. Among the other rooms is one displaying some of his ceramics and one dedicated to photos of Picasso in his studio with his friends, in scenes of ordinary life. I was struck by how contemporary they looked despite being nearly 70 years old.
The museum is small and an hour’s visit is sufficient to see everything particularly as although there are information panels in each room giving an overview of the work on display (in French, English and Italian), there are no audioguides available and no leaflets either. If you like to know detail about the works of art you’re seeing then you may be frustrated, but if like me you just enjoy the atmosphere and beauty of the art then I think you’ll enjoy it, however this time I was able to benefit from my parents’ greater knowledge as well.
As I mentioned above, the location of the museum is one enormous drawcard and one of the loveliest things to do is to soak up the sun and enjoy the views from the sculpture garden that looks out over the Mediterranean sea. Look left over the port and on towards Nice, right over Salis bay to Cap d’Antibes and straight for a never-ending vision of blue, dotted with yachts and sailing dinghies. In the garden there are sculptures by several different artists including Mirό.
The Musée Picasso is closed on Mondays, 1st January, 1st May, 1st November and 25th December. It is also closed over lunch between 12-2pm for most of the year, only open non-stop from mid June to mid September. Opening hours are 10-12, 2-6pm. Tickets are sold until 30 mins before closing times.
Since its recent refurbishment it is fully accessible (and free) for wheelchair users. Tickets cost 6€ full price, 3€ students & over 65 and free for under 18. For detailed information check the Antibes website (in French). The museum doesn’t have its own website (but it does have a reasonably well stocked giftshop!)
Why not PIN it!