ESSENTIALS

Musée Picasso
Place Mariejol
06600 Antibes

Website

Tel: +33 (0)4 92 90 54 20

Admission
€6

Closed
Monday

Opening Hours
16 Sept – 14 June
10am to noon
& 2pm to 6pm

15 June – 15 Sept
10am to 6pm
Last admission at 5:30pm

Late Night Openings
July & August
Wednesday & Friday
open until 8pm
Last admission at 7:30pm

Also Closed
25th Dec, 1st Jan, 1st May, 1st Nov

LOCATION

GETTING THERE

By Car: Take the A8 motorway to Antibes and follow the signs to the port and Vieille Ville.  There are several large open-air parking areas at the harbour and one underground. From there it’s a 15 minute very pleasant walk to the museum.

By Bus: From Nice you can take the #200 bus (Nice-Cannes direction) for 1.50€ which will take an hour depending the time of year. (Timetable here). Get off at the “Place de Gaulle” stop (centre of town) and walk down the pedestrianised Rue de la République into the Vieille Ville. Well sign-posted from there.  About a 15 minutes walk.

By Train: Depending on your location in Nice, you can take the train from either Nice Riquier located near the port, Nice St Augustin located near the airport or from the main railway station, Nice-Ville (known at Gare Thiers) and get off at Gare d’Antibes. Journey time approximately 30 minutes.  From there simply head towards the sea. Directions to museum are well sign-posted. Click here for Timetable (in French) but very straight forward to understand. Just type in station you’re leaving from and going to plus the date and time you’d like to depart.

Housed in the centuries-old former Château Grimaldi, built on the site of the ancient Greek city of Antipolis, the Picasso museum has the old village of Antibes at its front door, and the Mediterranean at its back.

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The Musée Picasso in Antibes was the first museum devoted to Picasso’s work alone; the city council of Antibes renamed their Château Grimaldi in Picasso’s honor in 1966.  Twenty years earlier, the curator of the Château, Dor de la Souchère, had invited Picasso and his companion, the painter Françoise Gilot, to set up their studio on the second floor of what was then the museum of the history of Antibes.  Picasso and Gilot worked in their château studio throughout the autumn of 1946, leaving at the end of November, when the building—sited high above the sea, with single-paned windows offering little protection from the mistral—became too cold to work in.  They returned to Paris, but Picasso left 23 paintings behind, a gift to the museum.

Those 23 paintings form the nucleus of the collection and marked a change in the destiny of the museum of Antibes.  In 1947, a gallery dedicated to Picasso’s works opened, followed by, in 1948, a special exhibition of Picasso’s works; more galleries devoted to Picasso opened in 1949, and two years later, in 1951, museum curator Dor de la Souchère began to collect modern art for the museum.

For the following 15 years, the château was divided between rooms showing works of Picasso and modern artists—on the second floor—and rooms containing documents, paintings and material culture documenting the history of Antibes on the other levels. That changed in 1966, when the historical collections were moved out and all of the galleries were redesigned to exhibit Picasso and the modern art collection, and the château’s name was changed to the Musée Picasso.

We spent a recent afternoon exploring the renovated museum.  It had rained the day before, and the wind following the rain had blown all night—which meant that the day of our museum visit was gloriously clear.  We left our car in the vieux Port parking and bypassed the enormous yachts and old men playing boules, walking instead through the arch in the old city walls and into the narrow streets of the vieux village of Antibes.

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Up the hill, we followed the signs to the Musée Picasso:  past the cafés with their sidewalk tables, past the shops selling everything from lavender sachets to coffee pots to signs to hang in your beach house.  We turned left at the Hôtel de Ville—it was a Saturday afternoon, and there was a wedding going on inside; the bedecked wedding car was parked directly in front of a no parking sign—and walked up the—steeper and narrower—street to the place in front of the peach and ochre cathedral of Antibes, the seat of one of the most powerful bishoprics in France for almost a thousand years.  There was another wedding, and another illegally parked, decorated wedding car, this time an old Citroen 2CV, just in front.

The Picasso museum was just a little further now. Built as the château of the ruling family, it was, as is the castle in nearly every other French town, next to beside the cathedral: church and state, the two major authorities, next door. In Antibes, the château has pride of place over the cathedral, being a little higher up, at the very top of the hill. We walked through a square, up a cobbled ramp and entered.

All the necessary facilities—tickets, toilets, cloakroom and bookshop—occupy the ground floor of the museum. Passing through the entrance hall, we followed more signs, up two levels to rooms displaying Picasso’s works. During the recent renovations, the former castle guard room which Picasso and Gilot used as their studio in 1946 was turned into a gallery, displaying many of the works that Picasso began and finished in that burst of productivity in the autumn of 1946.

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They are framed as Picasso directed them to be, in black iron frames, and hung around the white walls of the high-ceilinged room. The windows are small and sparse—what you would expect in a medieval guardroom perched on a sea cliff—and yet the lighting in the room has been designed to give the impression of cool daylight.

We walked through the room, soaking in the paintings of fauns and sea urchins, centaurs and fish. Between the paintings, through the windows, we had glimpses of the twin blues of the sea and sky, punctuated by white boats skimming along or delicately bobbing at their moorings.

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Down a half flight, we walked through a smaller room dedicated to photographs of Picasso and Gilot, their studio and friends, during that autumn 60 years ago.  Picasso is in short trousers and sandals.  He glares at the camera, defying it to interrupt his work.  Dishes from lunch are stacked nearby on a worktable, where they share space with an array of wine bottles, glass jars of paintbrushes, painters’palettes, and tins of turpentine.

Gilot, forty years younger than her companion, is beautiful and glowing and elegantly dressed, looking into the camera with a slightly ironic expression.  Friends drop by, and everyone lines up in front of one of the canvases:  men in suits, women in print dresses and hats, Gilot with her hair done almost like a schoolgirl, and Picasso in his short trousers.

We began, then, to sense an atmosphere:  Antibes in late-summer days, the second year after the occupying army of the war had been driven out by the Allies.  The French economy was still reeling—the paintings that Picasso did in those months, he did with the cheapest materials available, using recycled canvas, wood, because that was what there was.

But those paintings convey an almost elemental joy:  mythical creatures level their gaze out from the canvases, daring the viewer to doubt their reality.  Still lifes show platters of seafood, bottles of wine; a marvellously exotic aiguière, or pitcher, shows up again and again.  Picasso turned 66 in 1946 and Françoise Gilot was 25.  The first of their two children together was born the following year.  The war, and the occupation, was over.  We sensed a return to life, a guarded optimism.  Picasso’s works recalled the ancient Mediterranean past of this castle mount, reaching back to the Greeks and their myths, and placed them side by side with today’s seafood platter and carafe of rosé in one long continuum of sea and light and life.

Downstairs, we walked through galleries devoted to the museum’s collection of other modern artists and stopped for a while in front of Nicolas de Stael’s painting of Antibes’ Fort Carré, all greys and blues, the colors of the coast in a storm.

Downstairs, too, we began to feel the presence of the château itself.  Out from under Picasso’s domineering gaze, we noticed the vestiges of the medieval castle:  intricate carvings in doorframes and a differently shaped hand-cast terracotta tile pattern for the floor of each room.  Each time we passed a window, the sea caught our eye and reminded us where we were.

Back on the ground floor, we went through a door in the inner courtyard and found ourselves face to face with the sea itself.  The museum’s back terrace is a sculpture garden and an overlook:  we looked to the east and took in the Cap d’Antibes, to the west, past the port of Antibes and along to Nice, and south, across the blue of the sea.  That afternoon we understood why those paint chips in hardware stores call it Mediterranean blue:  the sea after the rain and the wind was a brilliant deep blue.  The sky was so clear that the line where it met the sea was sharp.  Seagulls called and swooped and played on the breeze, and a wedding procession drove by on the street below us, horns blaring in celebration.

We stood on the terrace for a long time, alternately studying the sculptures and the view, before we wandered out of the museum and back down into the town.  The wedding in the cathedral was finished, and guests were milling around checking their watches and getting directions to the reception.  Outside the Hôtel de Ville, the guests for another wedding were gathered, waiting for the bride and groom to come out of their civil wedding ceremony.  We joined them, just behind the (again illegally parked) vintage Bentley; in a few minutes, the couple—she in full-length beaded white satin, he in tails—and their toddler, dressed for the occasion in a very small suit, emerged to the cheers of the assembled.  On the way back to the car, we made one more stop, for ice cream.  We chose two kinds—nutella and watermelon (not together)—and sat on a bench with our cones while Antibes went by.  It wasn’t quite like having a drink with Picasso, but it wasn’t bad.

If you’re hungry after your afternoon at the museum, and if all that showing off means that you have to sweeten the deal for your companions, a stop at the Gelateria del Porto (4, rue Aubernon, vieil Antibes, 06.17.17.23.08) will help.  Jean Marc makes it all himself.  Nutella gelato is a year-round treat; watermelon (pastèque in French) is seasonal.