A new exhibit of 14 amazing displays across Nice shows how artists have seen the pebbly shores of the Baie des Anges since time immemorial.
Some cities in the world are immediately identified by the names of their ritziest, funkiest, or shoppingest boulevards. Les Champs-Elysées. Fifth Avenue. Unter den Linden. Carnaby Street. Orchard Street. And of course La Promenade des Anglais. But none of the others has inspired more artists than Nice’s famous bay-hugging main avenue to eternalize its palmtree-studded splendor and its unique lifestyle. The City of Nice has now rounded up thousands of their works in a fantastic display across every major museum, and some smaller ones, in town.
It all started when in 2014 Mayor Christian Estrosi decided to submit the Promenade des Anglais as a candidate for the UNESCO World Heritage Site title. Nice’s natural beauty alone would easily qualify for that, framed as it is by the sparkling turquoise Mediterranean Sea on one side and the snow-capped Alpine foothills on the other, sandwiching a jewel of a city which features a range of architecture from its Italian past in the Middle Ages right through urban development in the 19th and 20th centuries with its eclectic mix of glorious art déco and art nouveau buildings, stately villas painted in ochre and oxblood red, and elegant stuccoed bourgeois palais… and everything generously interspersed with green space.
But Mayor Estrosi kicked it up another yet notch and put the spotlight on the Promenade des Anglais which in itself is a micro cosmos of all that Nice represents. The wealthy and the homeless, artists and athletes, locals and tourists – all congregate here.
And thus the City developed an exhibit…. or more precisely, a kaleidoscope of 14 displays spread out across 13 museums and galleries… offering a holistic view of the multi-faceted Prom’ over time. First turned into a solid road once tourism started flowing into Nissa la bella in the early 19th century, the 7 kilometer stretch between Jardin Albert I and the airport as we know it today dates back to the 1920s, and many of the displays cover its contemporary form, but we also get a chance to peek at the time several millenia ago when it was nothing but a rough beach. The plastic arts are represented, as are photography, science, heritage, archaeology, architecture, and urbanism. And therefore, nomen est omen – the title of the exhibit, Promenade(S) des Anglais, is a clever word play on the various strolls you can take to discover the breadth of the artwork on show.
The chief exhibit is that at the Musée des Beaux Arts with well over 100 works by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953), the great painter from Le Havre on the other end of France who kept coming back to Nice time and again, attracted by its special light playing with the waves of the azurean waters. Curator Marie Lavandier and her team pulled together a master collection of paintings, ceramics, and sketches from all over the world which may be the one and only opportunity to see the main body of Dufy’s work in one place.
Of course all of the city’s other world class museums are represented, too, presenting a slice of life on the Prom in their own way: the Musée Chagall and the Musée Matisse show rarely-seen Nice-themed works of their feature artist. The Musée Masséna – which is located right on the Prom – offers a well-designed overview of the shoreline avenue’s development over the past century. And the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMAC) which hosts American neon light sculptor Keith Sonnier whose work is a reminder of the sparkling illumination along the bay.
Other exhibits include British photographer Martin Parr’s aptly titled work “Life’s a Beach” at the Musée de la Photographie, and – given that the Prom has traditionally been a meeting point of athletes of all walks (and runs) of life – the Musée National du Sport features a show of sportswear through the ages. Who would have thought of playing tennis in high heels?
The Villa Arson is the place to go for experimental movie buffs to discover a short film by two young filmmakers which shows a comparative glimpse of life “then” and “now” on the Prom. And history lovers, you too can rejoice, there are excellent displays for you at the Musée Archéologique in Cimiez, and the beautifully designed exhibit at Galeries Les Ponchettes, both of which take you back to the days when Nice and its even older settlement Cemenelum were first settled in pre-historic times.
Much more to see and to discover on your Promenade(S)… whether you’re Anglais…. or Americain…. or Français….. or from some other fine place. Most exhibits just opened on June 12, with a couple premiering later in the month, and all shows will go through October 4. Do not miss this unique opportunity under any pretext – this is the marriage of cultural patrimony and art at its finest, and it only underlines the City’s case for entering our glorious Promenade des Anglais in UNESCO’s Best Of.
Practical info: For locations, check the Ville de Nice website and make sure you also visit the site of the museum you are interested to visit for individual opening days and hours. You may purchase individual tickets or a 7 day pass (€20) which gives you access to all the exhibits.
All images courtesy Ville de Nice