So Many Reasons to Visit the Musée Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer
It’s no surprise that the Côte d’Azur is home to a wide variety of art museums and galleries, considering how many famous artists have made this area their home or spent considerable time here. From Menton to Nice, from St. Paul-de-Vence to Antibes, from Cannes to Saint-Tropez, you’ll find small ones, and large ones, some that are internationally known and others that you’ve probably never heard of. I dare say you could spend an entire summer travelling from one fabulous museum or gallery to another and never really see everything there is to see.
Artists of the Riviera
Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Modigliani, Rodin, Léger, Cocteau, Dufy and Soutine are just a few artists associated with the French Riviera. However, one of the true giants of 19th and 20th-century art and an integral part of the “impressionist movement” was Pierre-Auguste Renoir, who spent the latter part of his life in Cagnes-sur-Mer.
Located in Renoir’s beautiful villa, le Musée Renoir is different from most other art museums I’ve visited. You won’t find a vast selection of Renoir’s art here, though what you will see is exceptional. Currently, there are 16 original Renoir paintings and 40 sculptures. Many of his most important and well-known works are housed in other museums worldwide. What makes this museum special, at least to me, is the magnificent estate on which it is located.
When you first arrive at the grounds, known as Les Collettes, you find a welcoming center where knowledgeable staff can help with the details of your visit. As you enter the estate, you’ll be surrounded by lush vegetation. Giant ancient olive trees with thick, twisted trunks dot a hill overlooking the old village of Haut-de-Cagnes and the Mediterranean Sea. Well-kept gardens, immaculately trimmed hedges, beds of bright flowers and large fields of tall grass provide a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the glittering coastline. Though you’re just a few minutes away from the noisy, hectic centers of Nice and Antibes, it feels like you’re in a completely different world. The peaceful, tranquil and serene atmosphere is the perfect setting for viewing the work of such a master artist.
Established to preserve the memory of Renoir, his work and his Cagnes-sur-Mer estate, the Renoir Museum opened in 1960. When the city acquired the entire estate in the late 1950s, only a few pieces of furniture remained in the villa. With the support of private art collectors and a few large national museums around the world, the city was able to put together an impressive collection to fill the museum. There are just over 200 pieces of art located there today, all of which are linked to Renoir in one way or another. In addition, numerous paintings by friends of Renoir, many with Les Collettes as the subject, are part of the collection.
Renoir was born in 1841 in Limoges, France. He grew up in Paris and began making his paintings available to the public when he was 23. A steady income from his art allowed him to live comfortably with his wife and three children (who were often subjects for his many paintings). He was an incredibly prolific artist, and he created several thousand paintings over his lifetime. Even after he was diagnosed with progressive chronic polyarthritis, a disease that caused the joints in his hands, wrists, ankles and feet to become increasingly deformed, he continued to paint with brushes tied to his hands.
In February 1898, Renoir made a trip to what was then a tiny, charming, rural Mediterranean village, Cagnes-sur-Mer. His doctor had advised him that warmer weather would help his physical condition. He fell in love with the area and soon purchased a small farm and had a house built for his family. Friends such as Henri Matisse, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin would visit him, marvel and the scenery and paint by his side. It was here that he died in 1919.
By today’s standards, the small villa that now serves as the actual museum is not particularly large or imposing, though it is pretty beautiful in its simplicity. The facades are built from rough, unpainted local stones. A sizeable exterior staircase leads up to the main floor of the house. With several small balconies and the typical shuttered windows so popular throughout Provence, the tiny dwelling sits among the trees and hedges with an understated elegance.
Upon entering the building, you find yourself in the family’s sitting room which has been painstakingly restored during recent renovations. There are photographs of various family members on the walls. Large bay windows provide a spectacular view of the coastline. The dining room has also been renovated to look as it did when the Renoirs lived there at the turn of the 20th century. Experts examined the patches and remains of furniture fabrics and walls and restored things to their original glory. The kitchen and a few small bedrooms complete this middle floor. A few of Renoir’s paintings can be found here, including several of his son Claude.
What’s on Display
Renoir’s main studio is on the next floor, along with some of his studio furniture and tools. Easels, brushes, palettes, canvases and other instruments of a painter’s life decorate the room and give the impression that the old man has stepped out for a breath of fresh air and will be back any minute now to finish one more painting. Finding a museum where you can stand in the same room where some of the paintings were created is a real treat.
Most of the Renoir paintings housed at the museum are on this second floor. Six beautiful canvases hang on the walls of Claude’s bedroom and several more down the hallway in Renoir’s bedroom. Artifacts from his sons, well known in their own right (one as a filmmaker and another as a ceramic artist), can also be seen here.
The lower, garden-level floor of the house is now dedicated to sculpture work that Renoir created along with his assistant Richard Guino. Around twenty pieces are housed here, providing a fascinating look at another lesser-known aspect of Renoir’s work.
Le Musée Renoir is located in Cagnes-sur-Mer, between Nice and Antibes. When you visit, make sure to allow yourself enough time to explore the museum and the surrounding grounds.
19 Chemin des Collettes,
It’s open every day of the week except Tuesday. Ticket prices are very reasonable.
1. Renoir’s villa on his Les Collettes estate is now a museum dedicated to his work and life.
2. A tall palm tree on the villa grounds.
3. Ancient olive trees, said to be over 500 years old, populate the grounds.
4. An old farmhouse on Renoir’s estate.
5. The view of Haut-de-Cagnes from the estate.
6. The small path leading to the museum is lined with trees, shrubs and bushes.
7. Renoir’s bedroom, now home to some of his paintings.
8. The sitting room in the Renoir house.
9. One of Renoir’s last paintings was never finished.
10. Another view of the sitting room.
11. Renoir’s paint box.
12. “The Washerwoman” by Renoir and Richard Guino.
13. Renoir’s painting furniture.
14. Throughout the grounds, you can view paintings from the exact spot where Renoir painted them.