While troubled artists like Van Gogh, Cezanne and Gauguin were drawn to the sombre color palettes deep in the rural Vaucluse region of Provence, more chipper painters like Matisse and Chagall made their home in sunny Nice. Local tour operators offer a full-day “Artists’ Riviera” itinerary but it's easy enough to create on your own.
The Matisse Museum is housed inside a palatial 17th century villa high above the city where the artist lived from 1918 to 1954. Following his death, major art bequests delivered a handsome collection of over 40 paintings and 200 drawings that illustrate Matisse’s evolution as an artist over 60 years.
Nearby, the Marc Chagall Museum houses 17 religious-themed Surrealist paintings (above) and stained glass masterpieces. The most important Jewish painter of the 20th century, Chagall is regarded as a pioneer of Modernism. The delicate explosion of color on canvas and glass is enhanced by the stark minimalist building.
About 20 minutes west of Nice, the Picasso Museum Antibes is located inside a small castle overlooking the Mediterranean. Picasso worked here during a period of severe poverty, so much of the artwork is painted on wood and ceramics.
About a 1/2-hour drive northwest of Nice, the 9th century hilltop village of St. Paul de Vence is a fortified community of intoxicating charm. The Maeght Foundation displays artwork by Braque, Giacometti, Miró and Chagall, whose final resting place is here in the village.