Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins

In yesterday’s post about our recent trip to Mougins, I wrote we couldn’t recall the last time we’d visited. We frequently ride past the village, but it was only once I’d looked into the “newish” museum, the Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins (MACM), and discovered it opened in June 2011, I realised it was over 10 years since our last trip there!

MACM displays a private collection of around seven hundred two-thousand-year-old Roman, Greek and Egyptian antiquities which are shown alongside a collection of modern and contemporary art with a classical subject matter. Artists with classical works in the museum include Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Degas, Dalí, Dufy, Chagall, Derain, Lautrec, Yves Klein, Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Antony Gormley, Arman. As you know, from some of my other posts, many of these have a strong connection with the French Riviera. This museum marked an historic first in displaying ancient antiquities alongside modern artworks affording visitors the opportunity to observe the influence of the classics in the artists’ work.

This stunning museum was established (and funded) by Christian Levett (a British hedge-fund manager and self­confessed compulsive collector) together with museum director Mark Merrony, (editor of the archaeological journal Minerva, now also owned by Levett). The contents of the museum reflect, naturally enough, the tastes of its owner, yet they are also a singularly appropriate range for the place and times. Classical and Egyptian antiquities have been one of the prime inspiration of European arts for centuries, down to Picasso and beyond.

Levett has strong connections with Mougins, where he owns two of its most famous restaurants, La Place des Mougins and L’Amandier, both under the direction of chef Denis Fétisson (previously of the Michelin two-star Le Cheval Blanc in Courchevel). No doubt too he owns some spectacular property porn close by the village.

Among its many busts and statues the MACM collection initially included the Cobham Hall Hadrian, bought at Christie’s for US$900,000 in 2008, but this was recent sold to fund further acquisitions. In addition, there are vases, glassware, jewellery and coins, and an array described as the world’s largest private collection of ancient armour.

Almost all of the collection is on show, packed into a plain medieval townhouse refurbished by the locally based architect David Price. The exhibits are lit against a dark background, and closely spaced, with ranks of busts confronting visitors as they enter. As the glass lift and stairs take up a quarter of the total floor area, they too are used as exhibition spaces. Displays are lightly themed, the Egyptian objects arranged in a tomb-like basement called the Crypt. The modern works are dotted about the ancient objects to create striking contrasts and parallels.

The interior of the museum, in contrast with the rugged stone exterior, is pristine-like. Of course, a personal collection made into a museum is a recurring theme in major western cities – the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, the Frick in New York, the Soane and the Wallace Collection in London. This is not on the same level, nor does it pretend to be, but it still has the appeal of a private hoard made public.

The MACM is yet another addition to the the Côte d’Azur art trail, where artists’ discovery of the delights of the region has been honoured with permanent structures. Where once Parisian painters and sculptors might have happened on a place as a spot for a weekend trip, or to rent a cheap studio for a few months, now there are museums and monuments. In Cagnes sur Mer there is Renoir’s house and museum. In, Antibes there is the Picasso museum. In Vence you’ll find Matisse’s Rosaire chapel. Further afield, on the edge of Nice, are museums dedicated to Chagall and Matisse. In Mougins itself, arranged in a vertical series of rooms, is a small photography museum, centred on a series of portraits of Picasso. My favourite is probably the Fondation Maeght at Saint-Paul de Vence, with its collection of sculptures and paintings by artists including Calder, Miro, Chagall and, especially, Giacometti.

So, if like me you’re an art-lover, this is another must-see exhibition.


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