Every year for my birthday since I had moved to Philadelphia I made the tradition to commence the celebration by spending an afternoon at the Barnes Museum, taking in the innovative mixed of styles of art, an amazing aesthetic of early modern and impressionist paintings alongside American antiquities, African art and Asian sculptures. It’s a place of contrasts, the quiet calm of Albert Barnes’ home turned museum alongside the wild back story which leaves the history behind the art maybe more interesting than what is framed on the walls. (If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching the documentary, The Art of the Steal to hear all of the interesting details behind one of the world’s largest private art collections.)
It was here where I came to hang with my beloved Impressionists but became intrigued with other artists. In the 1930’s Barnes commissioned Matisse to recreate a mural which was to be painted around the arches in the main hall of gallery. It’s striking in size and movement and for me mimics the feel of floating on air.
It was then when I became more interested in Matisse, his style and his work, and several years later had the opportunity to travel to his muse, the city of Nice, head up to the museum dedicated to his work and then have the fortune of stumbling on the cemetery where he was buried.
I took a walk (be warned, it’s a long uphill walk but a great way to see the city) from vieille ville Nice to the Cimiez neighborhood, resting on a hill overlooking the the city, a view of the warm terracotta roof tops cascading to the sea. The museum itself is a colorful work of art, it’s sea foam shutters pressed against the bright coral exterior giving you a happy greeting as you wait in line to enter. Originally a villa from the seventeenth century it was purchased by the city in the 1960’s and now it has houses the largest number of Matisse works found anywhere.
Matisse was known for his use of color and the building that keeps his precious art mimics his vibrant style. The museum is full of paintings, photos, prints and offers a look into the vivid strength and realism that is Fauvism as well as a glimpse into the life Matisse led in the southern France.
Traveler Tip: You can get a 7 day museum pass that is good for all the museums and galleries in the city, over 20 in all. Click HERE for more info
It’s all in Ruins
Surrounding the museum are the Roman ruins known as Cemenelum. The ruins, which are mainly the remains of the Roman baths and amphitheater, make up the archeological park that is adjacent to the Archeological Museum in Nice. The area near the museum is the perfect spot for a picnic, olive trees scattered around the public green space, with the museum and the ruins in the background and the rest of the beautiful city not far in the distance.
Stumbling into a cemetery
It’s weird, I know, but I’m drawn to old, spooky cemeteries. They have hauntingly beautiful sculptures, they are a great historical guides and 9 times out of 10 you’ll get some really great photos. Many of the older cemeteries I’ve found rest high on hills overlooking the city so you can see a place from a new perspective. A few minutes walk from the museum I came across a Franciscan Monastery, the Monastère Notre Dame de Cimiez, which includes a church housing ornate frescoes, lush gardens and unbeknownst to me at the time, a cemetery where Matisse is buried.
I poked my head into the church, quiet and dark and marveled at the frescoes covering the ceiling of the church. For a summer day when the Tour de France was about to roll in this week it was happily quiet and miraculously void of tourists. I walked around the gardens next to the church, land that used to be the vegetable garden for the Benedictine monks living here back in the ninth century. As I left to head back down to the old city I noticed the cemetery on the other side of the church.
The wrought iron fence was propped open and there were a couple of stone masons fixing a large mausoleum and other than their occasional drilling the cemetery was completely desolate. I walked through the maze of tombs, small stone gravel crunching below my feet, my eyes glancing over the names and dates of the dead. I skimmed over the stones and then my gaze shifted back across a name another time. Matisse. It turns out the artists is buried overlooking the olive groves and the museum, viewing his work and his beloved city.