19 chemin des Collettes
Tel: 04 93 20 61 07
June to September
10am – 1pm & 2pm – 6pm
(gardens open 10am – 6pm)
October to March
10am – 12am & 2pm – 5pm
April and May
10am – 12am & 2pm – 6pm
25 Dec, 1 Jan and 1 May
By car: motorway A8, exit #47/48 direction Cagnes-sur-Mer, heading towards ‘Centre Ville’.
By Bus from Nice: take the bus #200, #217 or #500 for 1.50€ which will take 30 minutes, and get off in Cagnes-sur-mer centre/Gare Routiere (bus station). From here you can walk it (up hill) in 5 minutes, or take the local bus #49 and get off at the Musée Renoir stop.
Train: Cagnes-sur-Mer stop then either walking up or taking the #49 bus.
GOOD TO KNOW
There is limited parking spaces at the Museum itself so the best place to park is the parking La Villette and then make the short walk along chemin des Collettes. Guided tours are given in July & August from Wednesday to Sunday between 2pm and 6pm. In September they are on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday between 2pm and 5pm (6pm in April, May, June & September). The tours last 1 hour and given in French or English depending upon demand.
Like a time-capsule, Renoir's studio has remained as it was all those years ago and feels as though that the artist has just momentarily stepped away - perhaps into his smaller studio for an item - before returning to continue painting.
Visiting Renoir’s studio was an extraordinary, quite evocative moment and similar to how I felt when visiting Matisse’s studio in Villa Le Rêve in Vence.
Located on the first floor there is a stone fireplace and chimney that dominates one wall; in the middle of the room stands his large easel with his wicker wheelchair in front of it and painting materials to either side. His smaller studio has views over the bay, the gardens and the mountains in the background and is furnished with a smaller wooden wheelchair.
I am in awe of Renoir with his indomitable character and passion for painting. Overcoming pain with hands that had become progressively deformed by rheumatoid arthritis and fingers permanently curled he still found an inner strength to paint – with paintbrushes slipped into his hands by an assistant (and not strapped to his fingers as most people believe).
On the day I visited with friends, the house was busy with visitors. A small wooden staircase leads you down into his studio but everyone kindly gives way, whispering about what they saw or where to go next. I felt honoured to bear witness to Renoir’s life and I was not alone in having a few emotional tears bubbling up.
It helped to go outside and walk among the olive and citrus groves so beautifully maintained. The light outside was intense and in fact, I came across a few people who had set up their own easel to paint and I thought how very special that must be for them. (Byline: did you know there is a Renoir grant established in 1986 by Claude and Evangelina Renoir the goal of which is to encourage young professional artists (under 40) in their work?)
In 1900, and with his rheumatoid arthritis becoming ever more painful, his doctor advises him to try a change of climate. Having seen and felt the benefits that being in the south did to his ailing body on previous short visits, he decides to spend some time near Grasse with Aline his wife and younger son Jean. From there it would have been relatively easy for Renoir to explore Menton, Le Cannet and … Cagnes-sur-Mer.
The next time I wanted to visit the museum it was closed for renovation so this article is written with the emotions felt from that first visit and subsequent research I did later.
The story of Les Collettes
Born in Limoges in 1841 to a working-class family, Auguste Renoir received his early training as a painter while drawing and painting on fine china in a porcelain factory, and received critical acclaim at the age of 33 when 6 of his paintings were hung in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874.
In 1881 Renoir travelled to Italy and was particularly impressed by the art of Raphael.
From 1882 onwards Renoir travelled down to “le Midi” often staying with his good friend, Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence. Finding himself enchanted by the exceptional Mediterranean light and countryside he returned several times over the coming years to explore and paint with Cézanne, visiting places such as Le Lavandou and l’Estaque, a small fishing village west of Marseille.
(Byline: interestingly both Cézanne and Renoir suffered from and appeared to exploit the blur induced by their myopia in their work which may have offered a “short-cut” to abstracting the general forms and colours of the scene being painted and thus helped to produce the Impressionist style they sought to achieve.)
It is said that upon visiting Cagnes-sur-Mer Renoir exclaimed:
Il y a là, la plus belle lumière du monde!
(There exists there the most beautiful light in the world)
And thus it is here, in 1903, that Renoir rented the “maison de la Poste” (now the mairie) for four years. By now his reputation is universally established and he decides to settle permanently in the South of France. Perhaps it is then that his friend, the painter Ferdinand Deconchy, tells him about a large plot of land called Domaine des Collettes located east of Haut-de-Cagnes that is up for sale.
One can imagine the two men going off together to take a look and walk round the estate with Deconchy pointing out the century old olive trees and views down to Cap d’Antibes and Renoir rejoicing in just how perfect the light was. You can almost sense their excitement as they come across a small Provençal farmhouse tucked in amongst the olive trees and Renoir imagining living and painting there.
But Madame Renoir had other ideas and, after Renoir bought the 11 hectare estate in 1907, she insisted on having a very large villa built (to accommodate family, friends and staff) thereby snuffing any thoughts Renoir had of being in the old farmhouse. He turns to the architect Jules Febvre to design and oversee the villa’s building which is finished by the autumn of 1908. Aline is delighted and one hopes Renoir is too, and they move into their new home with their three sons, Pierre, Jean (future film maker) and Claude. It is a convivial place and visited by many of Renoir’s artistic friends – a young Henri Matisse was a frequent visitor.
In 1912, four years after having settled in Les Collettes, Renoir suffered a stroke which left him bound to a wheelchair. Yet despite this setback he continued to work every day, spending winter at Les Collettes and summer returning to Essoyes, Aline’s home town – a quiet Champagne village in the Aube department – where he spent his days painting in the studio he had built for him at the bottom of the family’s garden.
With hands so crippled by rheumatism that it caused his thumbs to turn inward towards the palms, and his fingers to bend towards the wrists it remains a testament to Renoir’s great courage that he even contemplated the art of sculpting – yet in 1913 he does just that and more.
At the suggestion of his friend Vollard, he takes up sculpture with a pupil of Maillol called Richard Guino and has a studio built in the garden of Les Collettes where they both work. Under Renoir’s direction, Guino works the clay for him and creates the little Venus and then the famous Venus Victrix, which is still on display in the garden. In fact Renoir went on to create an ensemble of pieces considered at the zenith of modern sculpture.
Along with Guino, Renoir had other assistants as well as his youngest son Claude, to assist him, arrange his palette and place the brush in his permanently clenched hand. He depended much on others to move him around in his wheelchair. His assistants would scroll large canvasses across a custom-made easel, so that the seated painter could reach different areas with his limited arm movements.
When the young Henri Matisse asked the suffering old man why he kept painting, Renoir is said to have replied, “The pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
Renoir’s last few years were saddened by the death of Aline in June 1915, his sons being wounded in the First World War and the inexorable progress of his illness and its constant pain. But he remained busy for when he was not painting in his main studio he was with Guino and producing sculptures. Their collaboration lasted until 1918.
One would like to think that Renoir’s last year was a little happier and that perhaps he even experienced a sense of triumph. The state had purchased his portrait Madame Georges Charpentier (1877), and he travelled to Paris in August 1919 to see it hanging in the Louvre.
Renoir returned to Les Collettes and continued painting throughout September until the end of November when he started to feel unwell. Having just finished painting a bouquet of anemones he now began a small still life – two apples – but was unable to finish it. I am presuming it was Claude who called out Renoir’s two physicians who arrived from Nice and remained by his bedside until he died, a little after two o’clock in the morning of Wednesday, 3rd December, 1919. He was 78 years old.
He is buried next to his beloved Aline in Essoyes.
As time passed parts of Domaine Les Collettes were sold off so that, by 1959, only 2½ hectares remained. In 1960, the house and the remaining estate were bought by the town of Cagnes-sur-Mer and turned into a municipal museum featuring the family’s furniture, fourteen original paintings and thirty sculptures by the master, including a version of Les Grandes Baigneuses.
In July 2013, after 18 months of extensive renovation work, the Renoir Museum and the whole Collettes estate reopened their doors. For the first time the museum also gave public access to the kitchen and hallway overlooking the gardens, added a set of 17 plaster sculptures donated by Renoir and Guion families, as well as 2 additional original canvasses. The museum is now also accessible to persons with reduced mobility.