Two Museums in Nice

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Musée Masséna

A museum like Musée Masséna encapsulates an important vein of the history of Nice. I thought it would be worth seeing and was pleasantly surprised. It was built between 1898 and 1903 in the style of the First Empire, a style that celebrated the Napoleonic era and its achievements – at its height, the First French Empire in the early-19th century had 44 million subjects.  Jean André Masséna (1758-1817) was a military commander during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, a character with a mixed reputation.  His Italian name tells of the French-Italian aspects of the city’s history  – Nice became French as late as 1860.

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Bay window roof in Musée Massena

The same style enjoyed different names elsewhere – Biedemeier in Germany; Regency in England.  Somehow the egalitarian spirit sweeping through the politics of Europe at the time had no effect on the sumptuous, highly refined approach to architecture, objets d’art and decorative aspects.  Musée Masséna is impressive.  It suggests that splendour is almost an inevitibility with those who can afford it – Greek friezes, ornate baroque mirrors, magnificent marble floor inlays, classical figures and gold-inlaid furniture.  Perhaps the mining magnates of Parktown in Johannesburg and the steel magnates in the USA at the fin-de-siécle were doing the same thing.  One hundred years later the president of Zimbabwe has ventured on this tradition himself – the irony spirals.

I went through it all, knowing, once more, that I am a modernist in my taste and a minimalist.

I left, going through the gardens that have won awards and that give onto the Promenade des Anglais, where the most expensive hotels in Nice are.  It was a long and tiring walk, the last part up a hill, before I entered the grounds of the Musée des Beaux Arts.  In this private mansion, built by a Ukranian princess in 1878, there is art spanning four centuries – religious icons in the Russian style and, amongst others, an interesting collection of large Vanloo paintings that cover the era before the Revolution and after it.  There is a rather beautiful landscape by one Théodore Rousseau, together with sculptures by various artists of varying interest.  One, a haunting image of a woman draped in gossamer by Anonymous… how do you create gossamer with marble?

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Head by an anonymous sculptor, 19th-century

Then, la cerise on top… two figures by Rodin.  One was The Kiss. 

If Rodin was the father of modern sculpture then the thoughts that underlie the creating of this work must be part of the reason.  Completing it in 1889, Rodin said that he was paying homage to women and their bodies, women who do not merely submit to men, but are full partners in passion.  Having been part of the larger concept of The Gates of Hell, The Kiss was inspired by a story associated with Dante’s Inferno, a story of illicit love and tragedy.  I have seen it before. I find I have to walk around it to appreciate each angle.  It is almost as if one has to swirl with the curve of her spine to arrive at the moment of the lips… with Michaelangelo’s gap between the fingers of God and man, this gap must rank as the most significant… yes, one can get passionate about Rodin’s Kiss.

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The Kiss

When I stood in the crowded enviebus back to Antibes, through dense summer traffic, the rather jaunty ‘bus driver was whistling Albinoni’s Adagio.

Will van der Walt ©

Vendredi  6 Juillet 2012

www.willwilltravel.wordpress.com

Image Sources:

Bay window roof;  Anonymous sculpture – Photograph by Will

Rodin’s The Kiss –  iconicrealism.blogspot.com

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