Sacha Sosno's square head, in front of Nice's Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain.
Matthieu Colin

French Riviera: Where to Find Historic and Contemporary Art in Nice

By Jennifer Polland
For decades, artists have been drawn to the French Riviera for its radiant light and dreamy seascapes. Famous painters and sculptors—including Picasso, Monet, Chagall, and Matisse—all flocked here, immortalizing the area in their masterpieces. Nice, the region's largest city, continues to entice art lovers today; contemporary creations can be found in galleries, outdoor public spaces, and even hotel lobbies. 

As for the greats from the past, Nice shows them off in numerous museums scattered throughout the city. Admission used to be free, but in 2015 the price jumped to 10 euros apiece—though if you're planning to visit more than two sites, it's worth buying a 7-day pass, which will let you pop into all of the city-run museums and galleries for a total of 20 euros.

Here's where to find the best art in town.
Place Masséna in Nice, France at night.
Place Massena
Place Masséna is the cultural and commercial center of Nice—site of festivals, concerts, markets, and public events. Built in the middle of the 19th century, this striking central square has black-and-white tiles along the ground and is surrounded by an arcade of ochre-colored buildings. At one end of the square is the Fontaine du Soleil (Fountain of the Sun), which is dominated by a large sculpture of Apollo.

Renovated in 2007, the square now has various works of public art. The most striking: seven tall pillars each topped with a statue of a seated or kneeling human figure—one for each continent. Called "Conversation à Nice" (Conversation in Nice) and created by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the grouping of seven statues are illuminated at night, changing colors as if they are having a conversation with each other.
Tram Line A of the Nice-Côte d'Azur tramway in Nice, France.
Nice Boizet Piensa
Tram Line A
Fourteen works of public art run along Line A of the Nice-Côte d'Azur tramway, forming a type of outdoor contemporary art museum. Like "Conversation à Nice" at Place Masséna, many of the works along the 5.4-mile route were created to complement the nocturnal cityscape, lighting up colorfully after dark. Even the tram stops are works of art—each one features a unique totem polelike structure and lettering in calligraphy. And when you ride the tram you're treated to a unique "sound concept" that differs depending on the day and location. 
Arc de Venet in Nice, France.
Jardin Albert 1er
Between Place Masséna and the Promenade des Anglais lies the Jardin Albert 1er, a peaceful garden that hosts the Nice Jazz Festival and other special events. At the center of the garden stands the Arc de Venet, a 62-foot metal swoosh foregrounded by the city's palm trees and the Mediterranean Sea beyond. Designed by French sculptor Bernar Venet, the arc was installed in 1988 and has since become one of Nice's most recognized landmarks.
Yves Klein's Portrait relief de Claude Pascal, Arman et Martial Raysse at Musée d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain in Nice, France.
Jennifer Polland
Musee d'Art Moderne et d'Art Contemporain (MAMAC)
Fans of American pop art will want to pay a visit to this museum dedicated to modern and contemporary works. All the big names in that genre are represented—Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg chief among them. While you're here, check out some of the creations from Europe's answer to pop art, nouveau réalisme (new realism), an avant-garde movement of the 1960s. One of the stars of that movement was Nice native Yves Klein, whose bright and bold works (see photo above for an example) are amply represented at MAMAC.

The museum is fairly small and can be explored in as little as an hour. Be sure to stop at the rooftop garden, where you'll find sprawling views of the city. 

The Musée Matisse.
Matthieu Colin
Musee Matisse
Henri Matisse never lived in the beautiful Italianate villa that now houses his life's work, but he did live in Nice, from 1918 until his death in 1954. At the Musée Matisse, you'll find everything from the great artist's early sketches to later drawings and sculptures, as well as photographs of the man at work. But most of the pieces in the museum's permanent collection—including Nude in an Armchair with a Green Plant (1937) and Blue Nude IV (1952)—were painted in Nice.
Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall in Nice, France.
Matthieu Colin
Musee National Marc Chagall
Born in Russia to a Jewish family in 1887, Marc Chagall created works that combine modern art with Eastern European Jewish folk art and culture. Many of his iconic religious works are displayed in this museum in the quiet suburb of Cimiez. The collection includes oil paintings, pastels, a mosaic, three stained-glass windows, and numerous other pieces, many containing references to biblical themes. The museum contains what's considered the most important collection of art by Chagall, who became a French citizen in 1937.
A replica of Rodin's The Kiss in Nice's Museé des Beaux Arts.
Georgios Makkas
Musee des Beaux-Arts
The Musée des Beaux-Arts, housed in the former residence of a Ukrainian princess, features works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Among the big names you'll find here: Monet, Rodin, and the Dutch Vanloo family—a dynasty of painters including Carle Vanloo, who was born in Nice in 1705 and became Louis XV's portraitist of choice. 
Musée International d'Art Naif Anatole-Jakovsky in Nice, France.
Musee International d'Art Naif Anatole-Jakovsky
An eccentric attraction set in a pink chateau, the Musée International d'Art Naïf Anatole-Jakovsky features more than 600 drawings, paintings, and scupltures by so-called "naive" or self-taught artists including Henri Rousseau and Grandma Moses. The collection was assembled by Anatole Jakovsky, a famous French art critic.
Hôtel Negresco in Nice, France.
Hotel Negresco
Built on the seafront in 1912, the Hôtel Negresco is a sort of museum-meets-luxury-hotel, with both historic and modern décor. The exterior was inspired by French châteaux, with its mansard roof and domed tower. The eclectic interior reflects several periods in French history, from sumptuous Louis XIII furniture and royal portraits to unique works of contemporary art. The hotel is a storied 5-star property—with room rates to match. But it's worth stopping in to gawk at the opulent marble lobby and have a drink at the Bar Le Relais.
The Ben Room at the Hôtel Windsor in Nice, France is covered with colorful graffiti.
Hôtel Windsor
Hotel Windsor
The Hôtel Windsor is a contemporary art-centric property designed to immerse guests fully in a creative atmosphere. Of the hotel's 57 rooms, 30 were individually designed by different artists. Even if you don't stay here, you can stroll through the lobby to check out work by a rotating roster of featured artists. To linger a little longer, have dinner in the tropical garden or a drink at the sleek bar.