Posted: 17th May 2021
Artists in Antibes written by August from the Future Ferens
Antibes today is a medium-sized city on France’s Côte d’Azur, known as a wealthy Mediterranean resort town and summer tourism hotspot. It was originally founded in the 4th Century BCE as a Greek settlement opposite the Var estuary to Nice, lending it its name- Antipolis, the ‘opposite city’. The towns passed to the Romans and later the Franks as time went on, and for centuries was often at the centre of conflict, whether it be pirate raids as part of Provence, Christian schisms when belonging to Genoa, or various wars of succession whilst under the French flag.
Unknown author, Antibes, 2008. Digital photograph, 1000x495px. Image: Wikimedia Commons
By the time of Monet, this was quite different, as the French Riviera became home to resorts and the summer homes of the wealthy. Having been restored from an Italian wartime holding to part of France following the 1860 Treaty of Turin, many wealthy investors and entrepreneurs migrated south and bolstered the economy. Amongst the groups drawn to the area were artists, with some already having made their homes in the area, such as Paul Cézanne in nearby Aix. As an area of outstanding natural beauty, whilst the practice of outdoor landscape painting grew from strength to strength, artists saw it as an opportunity to practice their craft- Monet himself recalled Henri Harpignies teaching a class of students at his hotel.
Claude Monet, Antibes, 1888. Oil on canvas, 65.5×92.4cm. The Courtauld, London, UK. Image: ArtUK
For Monet himself, Antibes was his temporary home for several months in 1888, as part of one of his intermittent journeys to the French and Italian Mediterranean coasts. From 1883 to 1908, he visited various sites along the coast, staying in various towns and villages in order to practice his craft, in between other trips to Normandy, London and beyond. Between January and May of 1888, Monet painted 40 pieces, typically of a few single views or motifs repeated in different lighting and weather conditions. He exhibited ten of these artworks upon his return to Paris, which ended up being bought as a set by Theo van Gogh, brother of the famous Vincent.
Several other artists visited Antibes to paint, most famously Pablo Picasso, whose work is now documented in a modern museum in the city. Another is Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith, who’s Environs d’Antibes is also shown in our exhibition. Smith spent much of the interwar period in France, fitting into the plein-air painting tradition Monet helped to establish. Whilst his work and practice did not feature the same repetition and specific focus on light and ‘spontaneity’ as Monet, his catalog of post-Impressionist paintings are still impressive to this day and significant as documentation of how different artists approach the same environment.
Matthew Arnold Bracy Smith, Environs d’Antibes, c.1930. Oil on canvas, 46.3×55.2cm. Ferens Art Gallery, Hull, UK. Image: ArtUK
Overall, whilst Antibes today is not known as a hotspot for art compared to towns like Céret, and the Picasso Museum remains its major artistic attraction, it remains historically significant to Modern art. The legacy of Antibes and the Cote d’Azur carved out by Smith, Monet and others is testament to its natural beauty and through their work the inspiring township can be admired from afar today, even if it is not possible to visit in person.