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The Artists of the South of France
A closer look 02 May 2023

The Artists of the South of France

The quaint villages, warm climate and dramatic landscape of the South of France have attracted creatives for centuries. From the Impressionists to the Fauves, inspiration from this part of France is highly prevalent in modern art. Come with Artsper as we take a trip to the southern French countryside, and discover some of the legendary artists that found inspiration in this corner of the world.

Claude Monet

claude monet landscape south of france
Claude Monet, La route rouge près de Menton, 1884 © Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Impressionist artist Claude Monet was infatuated with the beauty of the landscape in southern France. The Impressionists often painted en plein air (outside in nature) to capture the changing light on the natural landscape. The French Riviera was the perfect location for this due to the warm weather, unspoiled nature and plentiful sunlight. These elements of the south soon led many artists to flock there from Paris.

In this work, La route rouge près de Menton (The Red Road near Menton), Monet captures the vibrancy of the southern French landscape. He was staying in the small town of Antibes at the time, where he produced around 40 oil paintings. Monet described Antibes as “a small fortified town turned gold by the sun, standing out against beautiful blue and pink mountains and the everlastingly snow covered Alps.” His artistic vision of southern France is prevalent in his paintings, which radiate the breezy air of the French Riviera.

Berthe Morisot

berthe morisot landscape south of france
Berthe Morisot, Le port de Nice, 1882

Although they often do not receive the credit that their male counterparts do, women contributed greatly to Impressionism. Berthe Morisot, a French artist, was one of the leading members of this artistic movement. During her lifetime, however, her work was only critically praised for its “feminine” qualities, such as delicacy and superficiality. In fact, women were only seen as being suited to this artistic movement because the style itself was considered “feminine.” This was due to its soft capturing of light, its pastel color palettes, and its delicate brushstrokes.

Morisot’s work Le port de Nice (The Port of Nice) is one of the artist’s paintings of southern France. She painted the work en plein air from a small fishing boat in the harbor. Morisot’s works from the harbor in Nice are recognized now for their innovation in terms of composition and style. Her choice to fill most of the frame with the water of the harbor, while the top section is taken up by the port itself, was an artistic decision that challenged artistic convention of the period. Her painting style was also becoming increasingly abstract, demonstrating the progressiveness of her artistic vision.

Paul Signac

paul signac landscape south of france
Paul Signac, La Baie (Saint-Tropez), 1907

Following in the footsteps of the Impressionists, many other artists also flocked to the French Riviera to paint. Paul Signac, a Post-Impressionist painter who helped develop the Pointillist style of painting with Georges Seurat, was deeply inspired by the landscape in the south of France.

Obsessed with light like the Impressionists, Signac’s new painting technique allowed him to construct painted images in an innovative way. In the pointillist style, images are composed of individual strokes of pure color. The technique relies on the brain’s capacity to blend spots of individual color together. This allows the viewer to see a fuller range of colors than are actually present on the canvas. Signac’s painting La Baie (Saint-Tropez) is an example of Pointillism in action. This work demonstrates the technique’s powerful visual effect in creating vibrant yet harmonious compositions.

Henri Matisse

henri matisse landscape bonheur de vivre
Henri Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre, 1905-1906 © Barnes Foundation

Known as the founder of Fauvism, Henri Matisse often traveled to the south of France to paint during the summer. He would often gather inspiration during his time there and develop his ideas on his return to Paris.

Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life) is one of Matisse’s most famous works and an example of this artistic process. While visiting Collioure, a small town on the southern coast of France, he produced a painting of its idyllic landscape. This work provided the setting for the imagined composition of Le bonheur de vivre, in which he depicts nude figures dancing and relaxing throughout the dreamy composition. When Matisse exhibited this work for the first time, it shocked viewers with its bold color palette, distorted human forms, and unconventional use of scale. It is now considered as one of the pivotal artworks of European modernism because of the new visual language it employed in color and form.

Jacqueline Marval

jacqueline marval beach france
Jacqueline Marval, Plage Rose, la Côte des Basques, c. 1923

Jacqueline Marval moved to Paris in the late 19th century after the death of her child. After having her works rejected from the Salon des Indépendants in 1900, a dozen of her paintings were displayed in the following year’s exhibition. Her works were exhibited alongside Matisse’s, an artist that she worked alongside and who influenced her work as much as she influenced his.

Like many of her contemporaries, Marval sought inspiration from the southern French landscape. The works she produced during the 1920s represent a time of change in French society. During this period, the beach became a frequented holiday spot. Her seaside paintings, like Plage Rose, la Côte des Basques, reflect changing norms such as the new ways in which people enjoyed leisure time, and the introduction of the bathing suit.

An artistic legacy of idyllic summers…

The South of France is integral to the history of European art, with countless artists finding inspiration in its landscapes, whether untouched or filled with holiday goers. This part of the world is still frequented by artists of all ilks, who continue to immerse themselves in its provincial towns and idyllic shores. Who is your favorite artist to carry on the artistic legacy of the southern French coast?

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