July 25, 2019

Pablo Picasso’s Life and Work on the French Riviera

Pablo Picasso visited the Riviera in 1923 with his Russian wife, Olga, along with Gerald …

By Corinne Van Houten

French Riviera



Pablo Picasso visited the Riviera in 1923 with his Russian wife, Olga, along with Gerald and Sara Murphy, wealthy American ex-patriots who, like so many of the “Lost Generation,” had flocked to Paris in the nineteen-teens and twenties. It was the Murphys who persuaded the owners of the Hotel du Cap to open their doors year round, thus changing the Côte d’Azur from a winter to an all season destination. They and the Picassos, along with other artists and writers such as Marc Chagall, Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, found the tranquil waters, lucid light, rugged coastal cliffs and charming small towns in this French province impossible to resist. Many bought homes and set up studios.

Prior to the  arrival of the Murphys and the Picassos, the concept of “sunbathing” did not exist but extravagant beach parties segued into leisurely hours sitting in the sun and sunbathing caught on. Many of Picasso’s iconic images were created as he painted versions of his wife, mistresses and various lovers frolicing on the beach. Some of these images are monstrous, others erotic, others playful as he depicted Olga, Marie-Therese Walter, Dora Maar and Francoise Gilot in the various states of passion, affection, hatred and rejection that inevitably accompanied the women he loved and the images of them he created.

Picasso returned often to the Riviera, settling in various towns after he and Olga separated in 1935. They never divorced as he was, under French law, obligated to share half his assets with her which he was determined not to do. He was only free to marry his second and last wife, Jacqueline Roque, after Olga died in 1955.

It is possible to see works by Picasso in several museums as well as many galleries in the towns along the coast. He worked in a studio in the Chateau Grimaud in Antibes for a few months in 1946. It was turned into the Musée Picasso in 1966 and is well worth a visit not only for the works of art but for the building itself and the views of the Mediterranean from its windows. Here you can find, in addition to sketches and paintings, many of the sculptural and ceramic objects which Picasso created while living on the Riviera.

The Musée National Picasso La Guerre et La Paix (The National Picasso Museum War and Peace) is exhibited in a twelfth century Romanesque Chapel in Vallauris. Picasso painted the monumental work between 1952 and 1954 and donated it to the French government in 1959.

The town of Mougins is where Picasso lived the last twelve years of his life, dying in 1973 at the age of 91. There you can find the Andres Villers Museum of Photography  where a series of photographs of Picasso are exhibited.

Aside from these institutions there are many opportunities to trace the artist’s footsteps simply by visiting the towns where Picasso and his assortment of wives, children and mistresses lived and worked: Nice, Cannes, Antibes, St. Paul de Vence, Vallauris and, finally Mougins. Following along the path of the famous artist, being able to experience the beauty and charm of the various towns where he lived and worked and knowing that he made this part of the world his home for much of his life, adds to a deeper appreciation for the images he created while living on the Côte d’Azur.

Photo credits unknown.

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