Au Revoir Paris!! Heading South to the Seaside Villages of Cote d’Azur & Rustic Provence

In the 1870’s the Impressionists were centralized in the Parisian capital, discussing art in the cafes and nightclubs of Montmartre and planning their next exhibition. However, towards the end of the 19th century, the impressionists started to scatter and go their separate ways.

Seaside Village of Nice painted by Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse – Seated Woman, Back Turned to an Open Window

Their fascination with light and bright colours brought many of them south, away from the greyness of Paris & towards the seaside villages of Cote d’Azur & rustic Provence.

Let’s discover the French towns that inspired these painters from over a decade ago, whose names and works enchant us more than ever today!

Photo of one of the Seaside Villages of the French Riviera
Seaside villages in Southern France by marc valdener on Flickr

Who Went South & To Where?

Pablo Picasso & the Seaside Villages of Cote D’Azur

In 1946, Picasso was drawn to the bright sunshine and seaside villages of Cote d’Azur.

Picasso first settled in Antibes, in the enchanting Château Grimaldi overlooking the sparkling blue sea. Here he produced some wonderful masterpieces. When he decided to leave, he donated many of his artworks to Antibes. Today, the chateau is the beautiful Antibes Picasso Museum. Here you will view more than 200 Picasso artworks!

Photo of the seaside village, Antibes Picasso Museum
Antibes Picasso Museum photo by mksfcaon Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Picasso then moved to the nearby town of Vallauris, where he discovered ceramics. Here, he produced over 4000 works!!. He then settled in Cannes where he bought a beautiful 19th century house named La Villa California offering magnificent seaside views.

Picasso’s final residence in Cote D’Azur was in Mougin where he lived for the last 12 years of his life. He died in Mougin but he is buried in the gardens of another home he owned in the village Vauvenargues. Vauvenargues is in Provence, just outside the town of Aix-en-Provence. 

Paul Cezanne – Aix-en-Provence & L’Estaque

The most famous son of Aix-en-Provence is the post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne! Except for a short period in the French capital, Cezanne spent most of his life in Aix-en-Provence. He also lived for a period of time in the seaside village of L’Estaque with his mistress and illegitimate son, where he painted together with Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

He then returned to his home town in Aix where he lived and painted for the rest of his life.

Photo of the streets of Aix-en-Provence
Aix-en-Provence

Vincent Van Gogh – Arles & Saint Remy

Vincent Van Gogh left Paris for Provence in 1888. He moved to the small & charming town of Arles, seeking peace and quiet. Here in Arles, Van Gogh’s created some of his best known paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh painting of Arles Cafe
Cafe in Arles – Van Gogh Painting [Public Domain]

Paul Gauguin, a fellow painter & friend followed Van Gogh to Arles. They lived and worked together in Arles for six weeks. However their prolific collaboration was short-lived because of Van Gogh’s mental instability. Gauguin fled.

Van Gogh became increasingly unwell and admitted himself into the hospital in Arles. When released, Van Gogh moved to the small town of Saint-Remy to a psychiatric asylum to help him recuperate. In this asylum, he continued to paint many masterpieces, including Cypresses, Irises and The Starry Night.

The Lavender fields in Saint Remy
Norman Walshon Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
an Gogh's painting of the Asylum
Van Gogh’s painting of the Asylum [Public Domain]

Today, the tourist office of Saint-Remy offers a walking trail called the “Circuit Van Gogh”. It is a route that visits the landmarks of 21 of Van Gogh’s paintings. At each landmark there is a panel showing the Van Gogh painting of that particular site.

Press here to download the map and detailed information of the trail.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir – Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cote d’Azur

In 1907 the Impressionist painter, Pierre Auguste Renoir, bought a beautiful rustic farmhouse in Cagnes-sur-Mer in the Cote d’Azur. Like others, he fell in love with the bright colors and light of southern France. Renoir remained in Cagnes-sur-Mer until the end of his life.

His house and gardens are today a lovely museum – Musee Renoir. Press here for more details.

Musee Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the former house of Renoir
Musee Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the former house of Renoir
Photo by naoko kawachi [CC BY 2.0]

Cagnes Sur Mer offers a number of other sights. Wonder around Haut de Cagnes, a medieval town with narrow streets and unforgettable sea views below. Nearby is a lovely pebble beach that stretches on for over four kilometers long.

Haut de Cagnes in the French Riviera
Haut de Cagnes , Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0


Henri Matisse – Nice

Henri Matisse, another post-impresionist, was also drawn to the seaside villages of Southern France. He eventually settled in the city of Nice.

“I left L’Estaque because of the wind, and I had caught bronchitis there.  I came to Nice to cure it, and it rained for a month.  Finally I decided to leave.  The next day the mistral chased the clouds away and it was beautiful.  I decided not to leave Nice, and have stayed there practically the rest of my life.” – Matisse

When visiting Nice, I highly recommend that you visit the beautiful Matisse Museum dedicated to his colorful and whimsical artworks. And if you have the chance, pop into the Matisse chapel in Vence.

View of Nice
seaside villages - French Riviera
Nice, Southern France

Marc Chagall and Saint Paul de Vence

Close to Vence, Saint Paul de Vence is another old medieval town with a huge history of art. Chagall once lived here. Legend also says that Picasso once lived in Saint Paul and traded paintings for meals and lodging. Pop into Fondation Maeght and the Colombe D’Or hotel, which display art collections from some of the famous artists who once walked through the town and sold their works to rich art collectors. 

Today, Saint Paul de Vence is a very famous tourist destination. It oozes wealth and charm. Wander along the ancient walls of this town and experience what inspired so many artists to create their paintings here. From Saint Paul, you will see gorgeous views of the seaside villages of Cote d’Azur beyond …..

Saint Paul de Vence, France
Saint Paul de Vence, France

Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice

Marc Chagall loved Southern France and he spent the last 20 years of his life there. In 1973 a magnificent art museum opened in Nice, dedicated to Chagall’s artworks alone! It is a fantastic art museum and one of the best art museums in the region. For more information press here.

Biblical paintings by Marc Chagall - Musee National Marc Chagall, Nice
The Biblical Message by Marc Chagall / Photo by Rosino (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Paul Signac – Saint Tropez & Antibes

Paul Signac, the famous neoimpressionist, was born in Paris in 1863 and died in Paris in 1935. However he painted his most beautiful and colorful canvases during the years that he lived in Saint Tropez, in the Cote d’Azur.

Paul Signac paiting of The Port of Saint Tropez - French Riviera seaside villages
The Port of Saint Tropez by Paul Signac [Public Domain]

Like so many other artists, he was drawn to the sun, colors and bright light of the South. When he arrives Signac says:

“A strange wind pushed me toward the eighth wonder of the world, I have enough here to work on for the rest of my life”

It is also here in Saint Tropez where young Henri Matisse and other younger budding artists seek out the older Signac for guidance and mentoring.

Saint Tropez Port / seaside villages
The Seaside Village of Saint Tropez
Photo by Frédérique Voisin-Demery (CC BY 2.0)

The town of of Saint Tropez pays tribute to it’s artistic history with a beautiful museum called Musee de l’Annociade. It is a small musem housed in a converted chapel. Here you will view a fantastic collection of paintings of Signac and other painters who lived, loved and were inspired by the beautiful seaside villages in Southern France.

At the age of 50, Signac moves to another beautiful seaside town, Antibes with his mistress after separating from his wife. When visiting Antibes, go visit the famous Antibes Picasso museum housed in a chateau that was once home to the famous Pablo Picasso.

Raoul Dufy moves South to the City of Nice

Raoul Dufy was born in Le Havre. However after a few years of studying in Paris, he moves to the city of Nice. For most of his life, Dufy alternated his stays between Normandy, Paris and the South of France and in particular Nice.

In 1911, he marries a woman from Nice and this is one of the reasons for his frequent stays and his affection for the area.

He has many famous paintings of the French Riviera including views of the city of Vence, landscapes of other seaside villages, The Bay of the Angels (Baie des Anges) of Nice and many more.

Raoul Dufy painting / Seaside Villages
The Bay of the Angels – Raoul Dufy [Public Domain]

He loved the sunny French Riviera and this showed in his paintings which are characterized by intense luminosity and bold bright colours.

Raoul Dufy died on March 23, 1953 and is buried in a small cemetery in Cimiez, a suburb in Nice. The city of Nice possesses an important collection of his paintings. Press here for details.

Vence – A Medieval Town Far Enough Away From the Busy Seaside Villages

Vence is a lovely medieval town in the French Riviera. It is located way up in the mountains, a stone throw away from the crazy crowds of the Riviera towns.

Was this was the attraction for the artists, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, along with so many others? Did they come to Vence and the surrounding villages for it’s beauty, tranquility and relaxed atmosphere?

Chagall and Matisse did not live in Vence but certainly spent time here and left their mark in this wonderful town. In fact their art works in Vence are a major tourist attraction.

However, there are plenty of things to do and see in lovely Vence. Press here for more information.

Historical Vence, France
Old Town of Vence / Photo  by bill anderson is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Le Cannet

Known for its vibrant light, Le Cannet has always attracted artists to its charming, narrow streets and its incredible views.

The French post-impressionist painter, Pierre Bonnard left Paris and moved to Le Cannet for the last 20 years of his life. Many of his most beautiful and colorful artworks were painted here.

In celebration of Pierre Bonnard, Le Cannet has dedicated a beautiful art museum to him. It is a MUST museum for all Bonnard fans! There are also more beautiful gems in Le Cannet to discover!

Pierre Bonnard Painting of Le Cannet - seaside villages
Pierre Bonnard Painting of Le Cannet [Public Domain]