The popular museum in Grasse is celebrating its 90th anniversary with a very special display. But is seeing always believing?

It is a not-so-well-kept secret on the Riviera: the Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard in Grasse. A little off the beaten track – 25 km into the picturesque, Provençal hinterland of Nice – it has established a reputation as one of those hidden jewels that everyone talks about with that conspiratorial “pssst, don’t tell anyone…” tone, but then cannot refrain from raving about. And rightly so. The annual Fragonard summer exhibits are always a good reason for a trek to Grasse, but even more so this year. To celebrate its milestone 90 year anniversary, it has yet again succeeded in mounting one of the most interesting, unusual exhibits on display anywhere on the Riviera.

Trompe l’œil – the Art of Illusion is this year’s theme, which explores a specialisation of painting that art historians often dismiss as less important. And yet, for centuries the technique of combining still life and decorative art, and depicting reality with a sense of humour, was a forerunner to photography.

Trompe l'œil exhibition at Musée FragonardTrompe l’œil is a technique which has actually been known for thousands of years – reputedly going back to Zeuxis (b. 464 BCE) – but it experienced its heyday in and after Renaissance and well into the 20th century. Painters from Hieronymus Bosch to Salvador Dali are forever associated with it. Although some historic oeuvres are monumental in size, curator Andrea Zanella takes a particular interest in those done on an easel, much rarer and harder to execute than their better known wall-mount counterparts.

This exhibits travels through time, visits painters’ ateliers here and there, and shows an overview of this underappreciated art form with an accent on contemporary work, but without any theoretic debate. It is up to the visitor to form their own opinion and point of view. The grand finale is a virtual trompe l’œil by Ginevra Napoleoni and Massimiliano Siccardi, creators of the famous “Light and Sound Shows”, the decidedly modern variation of this artistic technique.

Worthy of the museum’ 90 year jubilee, this well-curated Fragonard exhibit documents impressively how in this day and age of digital photography and Photoshop, trompe l’œil is still relevant, pushing artists’ creative boundaries as much as viewers’ imagination. See for yourself why it merits a special trip to Grasse. But can you really always trust your eyes? A double take is welcome, and required.

‘‘Cette performance picturale nous rappelle de fort belle manière combien nos sens et leurs perceptions peuvent être abusés’’ – Musée Fragonard

This visual performance is a stark reminder of just how much our senses and perceptions can be misled”

Fragonard logoThe exhibit, open daily from 10h to 18h30, runs until 30th September, and admission is free.

Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard
14 rue Jean Ossola
06130 Grasse

Tel: + 33 4 93 36 02 07


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All images courtesy Musée Fragonard


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