Today I’m introducing a new series on the blog: “Museum Monday”. While unable to sleep recently I started to think about ideas for blog posts (the early hours of the morning are often my most creative times) and I realised how little I’ve written about museums in the area. Nice is the 2nd city in France after Paris for museums with more than a dozen important institutions. Now when you also add all the other museums and galleries in the surrounding metropolitan area (and beyond) you start to realise there are plenty that are begging to be discovered. I’ve been to a fair few but not enough in my mind and quite strangely I realised, in the depths of the night, that the only one I’ve actually written about in its own post is the National Museum of Sport. Anyone would think I’m a keen sports person, which really couldn’t be further from the truth….I so prefer culture and art to sport!
The Côte d’Azur is famous for its beautiful light, 300 days of sunshine a year and lovely climate. This has played a big part in attracting scores of artists to live or at least spend time here over the last century. Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Renoir and Léger all had strong ties to the French Riviera and nowadays have museums dedicated to their work in Nice, Antibes, Vallauris, Cagnes sur Mer and Biot. But I won’t only be talking about the big names, there are plenty of interesting smaller museums to be discovered, and not just about art of course, just be sure to check back every Monday to find out more.
I’m going to kick off the series with a visit to the Musée National de Fernand Léger (National Museum of Fernand Leger) in Biot which is one of 33 national museums in France (under the direction of the Ministry of Culture) of which only very few are dedicated to one artist alone.
I’m not an artist nor have I studied art history so these blog posts aren’t designed to be technical or art critiques, rather just to showcase specific museums that I’ve been to and hopefully inspire visitors to the Côte d’Azur and residents alike to discover some of the rich cultural heritage of the area.
Fernand Léger (1881-1955) was a French painter, printmaker, sculptor and filmmaker. At the beginning of his career he dabbled with Impressionism but moved to Tubism, Cubism and Modernism. He was the first painter to depict industrial subjects and objects of the consumer age and is thus considered a harbinger of Pop Art.
Inside the museum you follow the progression of Leger’s career, which can be (very broadly) seen in the collage below, clockwise from top left: the realist Portrait of the Uncle, his “tube” period where figures have no faces, a study for Adam and Eve and finally industrial Modernism.
The indoor space is bright and sparsely decorated, with views out over the garden to the hills. It’s a calm, peaceful place, not hectic or crowded – you won’t find yourself struggling to see through 10 deep crowds and selfie-sticks! The permanent collection is on the first floor while on the ground floor there’s an educational area where visitors are invited to touch the different surfaces of mosaics and bas-reliefs. Local school projects are also displayed here.
The museum is situated on a plot of land bought by Léger in the year of his death in 1955, a couple of kilometres from the pretty perched village of Biot. The building itself was designed a few years later to fit a polychrome mosaic that Léger originally created for a stadium in Hanover (Germany) – the dimensions of the fresco were used to calculate the proportions of the museum. The building has since been enlarged and now houses over 450 works of the artist, including some very rare examples of his early work.
Along with the mosaics and bas-reliefs covering the external walls, there’s a lovely stained glass window at the back and the garden showcases several sculptures set among cypress and pine trees. You’ll find a small café in the garden serving sandwiches, salads, quiches, drinks and ice-cream (note it doesn’t take credit cards) with tables set out on the lawn.
The grounds are free to access and the museum itself is a very reasonable 5.50€ for adults (which includes an audioguide in French, English, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese or Chinese. There is also a special audio guide for children in French and English). Entry is free for all under 18s and under 26 from the EU. It is also free the 1st Sunday of the month.The museum is closed on Tuesdays, 1st January, 1st May and 25th December, otherwise open from 10 am – 5 pm Nov-April and 10 am – 6 pm May-Oct. Check its website for more details.
I enjoyed my visit to the Fernand Léger Museum; it’s informative and utterly doable in a short space of time owing to its compact size and I felt I came away with a good introduction to an artist I didn’t really know before. I loved his bright colours and bold graphic form with its total lack of perspective; I found it fun and optimistic. What do you think? Do you know Fernand Léger’s work?
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