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Best museums in France for art lovers

Andy Stevens / 18 October 2016

A few handy pointers for art lovers on the best museums to visit the next time you take a tour, holiday or cruise to the south of France.

Garden in Museum of the famous painter Toulouse-Lautrec - Albi - Region of the Tarn - France
The South of France plays host to a range of museums dedicated to some of the world's most celebrated artists, including the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Here are a few handy pointers for art lovers for the next time you take a tour, holiday or cruise to the south of France, with a guide to some of the best places to visit in a region of France which has given unparalleled inspiration to so many artists down the years:

Cezanne Studio Museum, Aix-en-Provence

If you're a painter who wants to set yourself up in the perfect environment for artistic inspiration, then all bow to the master Paul Cezanne. 

The man who is beyond dispute one of the fathers of modern art had it covered from 1901, when he purchased an old farm on Lauves hill in glorious Aix as the site for his studio. 

Cezanne's studio is a place of pilgrimage for lovers of this much-cherished painter's craft; a serene spot bathed in Provençal sunlight, with olive and fig trees, a canal running beside it, and a peerless view of Sainte Victoire mountain. 

It was here that many of Cezanne's masterpieces came to light and life. And although his most famous works are dotted around the world, visitors will relish the history and heritage yet simplicity of his studio museum, and the chance to get closer to the source of Cezanne's inspirations in such an evocative setting. 

Related: The best museums in Spain for art lovers.

Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, Arles

Vincent Van Gogh is undoubtedly the most famous of so many artists to find their way to the south of France in search of a different kind of light. In the ill-starred Dutchman's case he came to Arles for this light, while wrestling the darkness within. 

Such is the reach of his fame, Van Gogh has, arguably, become Arles and Arles has become Van Gogh. His arrival in Arles in 1888 heralded the high watermark of the furious creativity synonymous with the artist's short and brutal life, with Van Gogh painting more than 200 canvases in just 15 months, including 'The Yellow House', 'The Bedroom' and 'Sunflowers'.

Take the town's art trail on your visit to Arles to live and breathe for yourselves the actual sights painted by the great post-impressionist. These, most famously, include the scene of 'Starry Night', plus 'Night Cafe' and 'Memory of the Garden in Etten'. Arles' Jardin d'Ete has its own Van Gogh monument as a tribute.

The artist's eternal connection with Arles is these days celebrated in the town's Vincent Van Gogh Foundation, a permanent exhibition space with paintings from the Van Gogh Museum collection, temporary exhibitions, plus works by contemporary artists. 

Toulouse-Lautrec Museum, Albi

On the banks of the River Tarn beside the cathedral of Sainte-Cecile, you won't struggle to find the magnificent 13th century Berbie Palace, once home to the bishops of Albi - and now housing the restored museum dedicated to the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

The troubled post-impressionist is of course famous as the artistic chronicler of Paris' demi-monde in the late 1800s. But the town of Albi outflanks the French capital with its fabulous collection of Toulouse-Lautrec's art.

On your visit to the Toulouse-Lautrec museum you will find a lovingly-curated and extensive chronology of the painter's life, encompassing no fewer than 1,000 of his works. And many of the greats are here, such as his painting of brothels and prostitutes, plus a selection of his famous poster art for Parisian restaurants and cabarets. 

Aside from Toulouse-Lautrec's works, the museum's medieval palace home also offers fascinating modern art and archaeology collections.

Related: The best museums in Italy for art lovers, 

Picasso Museum, Antibes

The laid-back French Riviera coastal idyll of Antibes was briefly home after the Second World War to the great Pablo Picasso. 

He used the Chateau Grimaldi, a small seaside fortress at the top of Antibes' old town as a workshop for his paintings of the town, and is reputed to have said that 'to see the Picassos of Antibes, you have to go to Antibes'.

Memorable quote that it is, the Picassos of Antibes are to this day in that very spot from which he drew his inspiration, the chateau perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, now the Picasso Museum. 

The museum opened in 1966 at a high time when the beau monde were descending in their droves on the French Riviera, with Picasso having 20 years previously donated 44 drawings and 23 paintings to Antibes. It is a relatively small collection, but gives an intriguing snapshot into what was evidently a happy spell in Picasso's life.

Musee Fabre, Montpellier

The Languedoc city of Montpellier's imposing Musee Fabre is a grand building of not just French but international repute in the art world.

It has been exhibiting great artworks since it was founded in 1825 by the Montpellier painter from which it takes its name, Francois-Xavier Fabre. 

Recent years have seen the museum benefit from a major restoration which has given the building a more light and airy aspect, all the better for enjoying its long-established grand collection of classical art spanning 600 years.

You will find Rubens among the representatives of Fabre's old masters section, famous names of the romantic movement including Delacroix and Gericault, plus paintings by Degas and Manet bringing things closer to modern times.

Saga offer a range of special interest holidays for art lovers. Find out more here. 


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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