The English Promenade looking towards the famous Hotel Negressco
(to upper left hand corner of painting.)
Bonjour mes amis! Long time no see. Or no blog posts. I was actually on holiday in the beautiful south of France in Nice. Beautiful city, good food, good wine and lots of culture. What more could you ask for!? Oh and lots of museums. I even knew what museums I wanted to visit before I went to Nice. I am a self confessed ‘Museum Geek,’ after all!
The quality of the museums in Nice are some of the best I have seen outside of London. Well laid out and mounted exhibitions. Easy way finding around the museums. Clean facilities. Friendly staff.
I was fortunate to avail of an offer for ten euros to visit all the museums in Nice with one ticket. The offer was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Henri Matisse moving to Nice. Each museum had an exhibition on of either his work or artists influenced by his work.
The ticket was called ‘Le ete pour Matisse,’ literally ‘The Summer for Matisse.’ As you went about the different museums you received a stamp from the museum to say you had visited that particular museum. My boyfriend and I managed to visit 5 out of 8 main museums and receive a stamp. It was almost like a game. Which was perfect as I <3 Gaming in Museums! The offer is now over but more on the ‘Le ete pour Matisse’ can be found here.
The first museum that I visited was the ‘Musee Massena,’ which is the shortened version of the museum’s name (see the blog post title for the museum’s full title.) It was once a private residence of a well to do Nicoise family. When it was built it would have been one of a handful of private villas along the sea front. The Musee Massena, tells the story of Nice from Roman times through the 19th century to the present day. It’s bit like the ‘Ulster Museum’ of Nice!
You enter through the ornate doors and are taken through a series of rooms that would have been the main entertaining rooms. To say the rooms are breath taking are an understatement. You spend half the time looking up at the frescos and ornate gilt work in the rooms. The 19th century Nicoise people knew how to live!
Once you have traversed the beauty of the downstairs you are brought up an ornate marble staircase with murals of the family who used to live in the Musee Massena. The murals depict the family looking down on you. It really gives you the sense of the power and wealth of the family. It is like they are looking down on you for visiting what would have been their private sanctum!
You can imagine the elegant ladies of the era dancing in this room!
The mural is repeated but with different family members
on an adjoining wall, but we were unable to take a photo of it!
The permanent exhibition space tells the story of Nice from Roman times until the present day. It details how it was and still is the playground of the wealthy elite. Members of the Russian Imperial family and nobility were very fond of Nice. Many of them are buried in the Russian Orthodox graveyard just outside of Nice. There are many interesting artefacts from Napoleon’s waistcoat, Empress Josephine’s coronation dress and letters signed by Tsar’s of Russia. Unfortunately, it was very hard to take photo’s because of security guards!
Empress Josephine’s Coronation robes, c1800-1810.
The Musee Massena also tells the story of the Unification if Italy in 1860. Nice used to be part of Italy until 1860 when it was handed over by the Italians to the French. A man named Giuseppe Garibaldi (Garibaldi biscuits were named after him) played an important part in this hand over. He is seen as somewhat of a local hero and historical icon!
The curator’s at the Musee Massena have given great thought to ‘storytelling’ in how they curate objects on display. They have grouped together artefacts associated with the one person or era in one display case. They have put the most important item to the front, the less important ones to the back. It is of the person themselves have curated their personal belongings to tell their story!
For example, Empress Josephine’s coronation dress is at the front of the case whilst her tiara, gloves and shoes are on a lower perspex shelf. The viewer can be under no impression due to the direction of curation as to how important Empress Josephine was and is to French history. The curator’s are also giving the impression to the viewer as to what they think is the most important artefact- the coronation dress. Again, I was not allowed to take photo’s of this item due to strict no-photo policies.
Example of how one important item (in this case the Card Table) is central to the display;
the other items are secondary.
Towards the end of the permanent exhibition one gallery displayed the popularity of Nice in the 1890’s. As can be seen below, there is a architect’s model of the old pier on the Promenade des Anglais. There were also several posters from the ‘Nice Winter Festival’ depicting Edwardian ladies enjoying themselves in the winter sun. This gave me a real insight into how the still thriving tourist town started attracting visitors.
3D Architect’s Model and Nice Winter Festival Posters.
Overall, I have to say that the Musse Massena is one of the best museums I have had the pleasure visiting so far this year. From the beauty of the museum building itself to the curatorial layout of artefacts, it was an excellent museum experience. I highly recommend visiting the Musee Massena if you are in Nice!