Musée National Marc Chagall – Nice
Provence-Alpes-Cote Azur, France
The Musée National Marc Chagall is an art museum in Nice dedicated to the Russian-born French artist Marc Chagall.
History and architecture. A total artwork
The Chagall Museum is located on Cimiez hill, not far from the historical center of Nice.
The building, opened to the public in 1973, was designed by French architect André Hermant – a former collaborator of Auguste Perret – under the strict supervision of Chagall, who was living in the village of Saint-Paul de Vence, a few kilometers away.
The artist donated the artworks which form the core of the collection and was directly involved in the creation of the building’s decorative apparatus.
The architecture of the museum is characterized by a close relationship between the building and artworks, the broad use of natural lighting, and the role of the garden as a fundamental part of the visiting experience.
These aspects are common to other museums built in the French Riviera in the same period, such as the Maeght Foundation in Saint Paul de Vence and the Musée Leger in Biot.
The strong connection between architecture and collection is the outcome of the (sometimes troubled) collaboration between Hermant and Chagall, the latter aspiring to a building capable of fully embodying the spirituality of his works.
Such a direct involvement is also visible in the large decorative windows of the auditorium and in the mosaic which overlooks the museum’s pool, all conceived by Chagall and made under his direct supervision.
View of the museum entrance from the garden; photo © Inexhibit
The building of the Chagall Museum in Nice was designed as a place for meditation and serenity, its interiors provide a sense of calmness achieved by combining bright materials, mainly plaster and limestone, with generous use of daylight.
Only the auditorium is intentionally left dark, so as to emphasize its vividly colored stained glass windows.
Natural lighting has also another function; since Chagall wanted his paintings to be illuminated by lambent light to emphasize their relief, Hermant introduced several narrow vertical windows to obtain more dramatic lighting than through more usual skylights, mainly because the perception of the artworks changes dramatically at different times of the day.
The beautiful Mediterranean garden which surrounds the building also plays a fundamental role to give the museum the calmness Chagall desired so much. The garden is planted with olive trees, cypresses, and maritime pines: Chagall also collaborated with landscape designer Henri Fish, choosing personally a number of flowering plant species because of their colors, mostly whites, and blues; a number of African Lily plants were also included so to blossom every 7th July, Chagall’s birthday.
Collection and artworks on show
The museum’s collection is based on a donation by Chagall of paintings mostly inspired by religious themes. The centerpiece of the collection is the famous Bible Cycle (also known as Biblical Message), consisting of seventeen paintings – depicting Genesis, the Exodus, and the Song of Songs – made by Chagall in the early 1950s.
Over time, the museum’s collection has been expanded through acquisitions and bequests; it is today one of the world’s largest collections exclusively focused on Chagall’s works.
The Chagall Museum also includes a bookshop and a café. Two other major museums, the Musée Matisse and the Archaeological Museum of Nice Cimiez are located nearby.
A room with three paintings of Chagall’s Bible Cycle; photo © Inexhibit
Exterior views of the Chagall Museum in Nice and its Mediterranean garden; photos © Inexhibit
Chagall Museum Nice, ground floor plan; the building design is based on a T-shape plan made up of hexagons; image Inexhibit.
The pool and the mosaic by Chagall; photos © Inexhibit
The auditorium with Chagall’s decorative stained glass windows; photo © Inexhibit
The permanent exhibition of the Chagall Museum in Nice, installation views; photos © Inexhibit
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