Bound for the Chagall Museum on a winter afternoon in the seaside city of Nice, France, I turned my back on the Mediterranean. Walking past the train station, I took the Boulevard de Cimiez to the site dedicated to Chagall’s paintings, prints, and stained glass,
One can easily reach the museum via Bus #15 for a single euro, or by one of Nice’s ubiquitous taxis, but on the day I visited I preferred a light hike in the French Riviera sunshine.
The sleek, gray, box-shaped buildings were midway to the top of the Cimiez Hill. A simple silver sign near the street told me I had reached my destination. I navigated the sidewalk that cut across the lawn. The place seemed oddly quiet for a site dedicated to one of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists. I wondered whether it would be open or closed after. My fears fell away when other visitors stepped out of the museum.
Feelings of relief washed over me. This was the museum visit of my dreams. All the planning and travel time was over. I purchased a ticket for 8.5 euros and followed the clerk’s gesture to the glass doors. I opened my eyes and heart to the experience.
For the briefest moment I paused in the gift shop before moving on to the exhibit area. I rapidly surveyed the array of prints, books, DVDs, cards, bookmarks and other small items designed with Chagall images. Though they were beautiful, the many reproductions had to wait because I was about to enjoy original Chagalls — paintings, glass art, drawings and tapestries.
For me this was a sacred site, a temple of art.
I advanced through two sets of double glass doors to find the actual paintings. After handing slips of paper to the ticket taker, I entered two adjoining oval exhibit spaces and became immersed in Chagall’s deep, radiant colors.
Rich greens, purples, crimson reds, and rays of yellow colored the larger-than-life series based on images from the Old Testament. Titles included “The Creation,” “Abraham and the Three Angels,” “The Sacrifice of Isaac.” Chagall filled the corners with brides, angels and roosters that appeared as if they floated above the scenes. Flights of fancy were never so free.
The palette changed to raspberry, rose and other shades of red in a room that displayed the five paintings in the “Song of Solomon” series, a celebration of romantic love. Chagall’s two great loves were his adored first wife Bella and the second, Valentina, with whom he lived at the end of his life.
The artist unabashedly portrayed love through entwined human forms painted with broad, sweeping strokes. The audacity of the colors and energy astonished this writer.
Chagall’s work has touched my soul for decades. I saw his paintings for the first time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The childlike simplicity, the bright color, and whimsy drew me into his world.
I traversed a long hallway adorned with other paintings; I peered into the semi-darkened auditorium. Floor-to-ceiling blue-stained glass windows made me gasp. The stained glass windows on the opposite side of the auditorium were similar to their sisters at the Chicago Art Institute and other sites with Chagall window installations.
As if on cue, a jazz pianist on stage played a few bold notes on the grand piano. A jazz ensemble rehearsed for an evening performance. That concert and others serve as a living fulfillment Chagall’s vision that his museum would bring together music and painting. I watched the play of light shining through glass before returning for one more stroll through the display of canvasses. Chagall’s art is a gift. So playful. Such happiness! Love of life saturates his art.
On leaving the Chagall Museum, I faced the dazzling sunshine of the Cote d’Azur, and followed my wandering spirit downhill to the sea.