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The 14th-century ceiling of the cloister of Fréjus Cathedral is decorated with paintings of animals, people and mythical creatures
Triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment, in Aix Cathedral (15th century)

Artists have been painting in Provence since prehistoric times; paintings of bisons, seals, auks and horses dating to between 27,000 and 19,000 BC were found in the Cosquer Cave near Marseille.<ref>Aldo Bastié, Histoire de la Provence, Editions Ouest-France, 2001.</ref>

The 14th-century wooden ceiling of the cloister of Fréjus Cathedral has a remarkable series of paintings of biblical scenes, fantastic animals, and scenes from daily life, painted between 1350 and 1360. They include paintings of a fallen angel with the wings of a bat, a demon with the tail of a serpent, angels playing instruments, a tiger, an elephant, an ostrich, domestic and wild animals, a mermaid, a dragon, a centaur, a butcher, a knight, and a juggler.<ref>Fixot, Michel, and Sauze, Elisabeth, 2004: La cathédrale Saint-Léonce et le groupe épiscopale de Fréjus. Monum, Éditions du patrimoine.</ref>

Nicolas Froment (1435–1486) was the most important painter of Provence during the Renaissance, best known for his triptych of the Burning Bush (c. 1476), commissioned by King René I of Naples. The painting shows the Annunciation to the shepherds, with the Virgin Mary and Christ above the burning bush. The wings of the triptych show King Rene with Mary Magdalene, St. Anthony and St. Maurice on one side, and Queen Jeanne de Laval, with Saint Catherine, John the Evangelist, and Saint Nicholas on the other.<ref>The cult of Mary Magdalene was very important in medieval Provence; What was believed to be her sarcophagus had been found in a Gallo-Roman crypt in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in 1279, and the construction of a large church, the Basilica Sainte Marie-Madeleine, was begun on the spot in 1295.</ref>

Louis Bréa (1450–1523) was a 15th-century painter, born in Nice, whose work is found in churches from Genoa to Antibes. His Retable of Saint-Nicholas (1500) is found in Monaco, and his Retable de Notre-Dame-de-Rosaire (1515) is found in Antibes.

Pierre Paul Puget (1620–1694), born in Marseille, was a painter of portraits and religious scenes, but was better known for his sculptures, found in Toulon Cathedral, outside the city hall of Toulon, and in the Louvre. There is a mountain named for him near Marseille, and a square in Toulon.

Paul Cézanne, L'Estaque, 1883–1885
Vincent van Gogh, Cafe Terrace at Night", September 1888
Paul Signac, The Port of Saint-Tropez, oil on canvas, 1901

In the 19th and 20th centuries, many of the most famous painters in the world converged on Provence, drawn by the climate and the clarity of the light. The special quality of the light is partly a result of the Mistral wind, which removes dust from the atmosphere, greatly increasing visibility.

  • Adolphe Monticelli (1824–1886) was born in Marseille, moved to Paris in 1846 and returned to Marseille in 1870. His work influenced Vincent van Gogh who greatly admired him.<ref>See exhibition "Van Gogh – Monticelli" in Marseille's Centre de la Vieille Charité, Sep 2008 – Jan 2009 [1]</ref>
  • Paul Cézanne (1839–1906) was born in Aix-en-Provence, and lived and worked there most of his life. The local landscapes, particularly Montagne Sainte-Victoire, featured often in his work. He also painted frequently at L'Estaque.
  • Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) lived little more than two years in Provence, but his fame as a painter is largely a result of what he painted there. He lived in Arles from February 1888 to May 1889, and then in Saint-Remy from May 1889 until May 1890.
  • Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) visited Beaulieu, Grasse, Saint Raphael and Cannes, before finally settling in Cagnes-sur-Mer in 1907, where he bought a farm in the hills and built a new house and workshop on the grounds. He continued to paint there until his death in 1919. His house is now a museum.
  • Henri Matisse (1869–1954) first visited St. Tropez in 1904. In 1917 he settled in Nice, first at the Hotel Beau Rivage, then the Hotel de la Mediterranée, then la Villa des Allies in Cimiez. In 1921 he lived in an apartment at 1 place Felix Faure in Nice, next to the flower market and overlooking the sea, where he lived until 1938. He then moved to the Hotel Regina in the hills of Cimiez, above Nice. During World War II he lived in Vence, then returned to Cimiez, where he died and is buried.

Source and Bibliography about artists on the Mediterranean

  • Méditerranée de Courbet á Matisse, catalogue of the exhibit at the Grand Palais, Paris from September 2000 to January 2001. Published by the Réunion des musées nationaux, 2000.

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