Château Grimaldi, house of art

The Grimaldi dynasty held a kind of sceptre over the Côte d’Azur for centuries.  The château was built in 1300 as a castle above what is today Cagne-sur-Mer and has become iconic for this coastal town, about seven kms. west of Nice.  It withstood sieges from time to time, as did Provence itself throughout its long history.

19th-c. painting of Chateau Grimaldi

19th-c. painting of Chateau Grimaldi

From the 17th-century the castle took on the character of a château with decorated salons.  The baroque trompe l’oeil designs on the ceilings of the arched first and second floor landings have been restored in recent times  –  the sharp clarity of it all is vaguely surreal for me.

Detail of roof fresco

Detail of roof fresco

This is the drumroll before you enter the Grande Salle.  From the immense flamboyant hearth to the extensive ceiling frescoes, I have seldom, if ever, been so impressed by a baroque interior.  The central fresco is that of Panteon being struck by lightning, adorned on all sides by figures vaguely reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel.  The surround of high arched windows flood the space with light.

Grande Salle roof fresco

Grande Salle roof fresco

More down to earth, on the first floor of the Château, they house the Museum of the Olive Tree, ranging from chest-high grinding stones to delicate 17th-century olive oil bottles, all associated with Cagne’s long farming history.

Olive Museum

Olive Museum

There are four further salles with art collections – a room of contemporary abstracts; the Suzy Solidor portrait collection;  many landscapes of Cagne done by foreign artists over the past 150 years and the August Renoir collection.  Below the broad staircase, there is a dimly-lit nook – a sarcophagus from the vicinity of the Château with what appears to be human bones.  “Roman,” the attendant whispered.

Roman remains

Roman remains

The Renoir collection is temporarily housed at Grimaldi while La Collette, the home where Renoir spent his last years, is being renovated.  You don’t see the well-known Renoirs.  You see paintings, sketches and a few sculptures, mainly of family members.  In one room there is his easel, chair and a number of empty canvases.

Renoir easel and chair

Renoir easel and chair

And, at one window, looking out over Cagne, there is a photograph of what you are seeing with an arrow indicating the location of La Collette.  There are portraits of Renoir himself, several by Albert André, his biographer and archivist.  In one such portrait, we see Renoir in profile, the bird-like energy, myopically close to his own canvas, intent and fragile under a broad-rimmed hat.

Portrait of Renoir by Albert André

Portrait of Renoir by Albert André

Nearby, a photograph of his easel and chair in the garden at La Collette.  Below the photograph, the chair itself.  I touched it.

© Will v.d. Walt

Janvier, 2013

Image Sources: Images by Will 


8 Responses to Château Grimaldi, house of art

  1. Lovely Will, you bring it to life.

  2. Pingback: Château Grimaldi, house of art | The Rag Tree

  3. WWT: great post, and i’ve reposted; thx for sharing! RT

  4. Isabella Strong says:

    I visited La Colette in 1991 and it was looking pretty run down then. I am pleased that it is being renovated. It was in stark contrast to Monet’s house and garden which was immaculately maintained: it even has the same plants that Monet cultivated during the different seasons. Monet’s house and garden is, of course, funded by an American Trust.

    I found it very interesting that in the last years of Renoir’s life, he had to have his brushes tied onto his hands as he could no longer hold a brush. Such dedication and passion for his work. Even the debilitating pain of arthritis couldn’t stop him.

    I am painting again.


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