23 September 2014

Paris' Picasso treasures - when will the museum re-open?

A post called French Riviera Art Trail showed how the already mature artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) moved permanently to Vallauris, next to the town of Antibes, in the 1950s. There he slowly learned the skills of pottery art at the Galerie Madoura. The artist must have been busy – he created 4,000 pieces of ceramics during his life there. Vallauris was already well known for its cer­amics, but Picasso made the industry even more famous. The Ceramics Museum is thus a living reminder of Picasso’s and other ceramic artists’ contrib­ut­ions.

The old Grimaldi family castle in Vallauris was built in the Renais­sance style and later converted into the town hall of Antibes. After WW1, the chateau became known as the Grimaldi Museum. Since it was the home of artist Pablo Picasso after WW2, the castle was eventual­ly turned into the Picasso Museum, one of the first museums anywhere to be dedicated to that artist.

Picasso himself donated important works to the museum, especially his paintings The Goat and La Joie de Vivre. Jacqueline Roque married Picasso in Vallauris in March 1961 and she too presented the museum with many important Picasso art objects. Today the museum holds 245 works by Picasso, collected from 1952 on.

On the walls of a ruined Romanesque chapel, in the Castle at Vall­aur­is, lies the Musée National Picasso’s War and Peace. In 1952, Picasso had decided to erect a temple there with his monumental composition. He painted two huge panels, one portraying the horrors of war and one depicting the benefits of peace. Another panel was added at the far end of the chapel to make the link between the two themes.

Musée Picasso
in Le Marais district of Paris
Opened in 1985, closed in 2009 for renovations, due to open September 2014

So the south of France is well served, but what about Paris? The post Le Marais, Paris showed how the main hôtels particuliers (private houses) were not pulled down in Le Marais. Instead they became excellent museums eg the Paris Historical Museum is in Hôtel Carnavalet. Where possible, the interiors of these private houses were maintained and modernised.

Picasso had amassed an enormous collection of his own work by the time of his death in 1973 and bequeathed them to the French state in his will. Paris' Musée Picasso, which opened in 1985 in the old Hôtel Salé, gathered thousands of the artist's own art objects, plus Picasso's personal art collection of works by Cézanne, Degas, Seurat, Matisse and others. 

In time the museum had to be renovated. The decision to renovate the façades, the exterior decoration and the surrounding wall was easy; it all took place between 2006 and 2009. This operation was effective in saving the important sculptural pieces of the building’s mouldings and pediments.

Musée Picasso, Paris before it closed. The rooms were arranged chronologically.

But the old palace also needed major extensions and this was where things went badly wrong. What caused the delay in reopening the Picasso Museum in Le Marais district and what caused a serious financial blowout? The final bill for the renovated 17th-century baroque mansion now stands at €52million. I hope it will be worth it. The museum's exhibition space has been more than doubled to 3,800 square metres after the renovation, and the garden and the planted terrace were redesigned.

Alas there is a serious a fight between the French Culture Ministry and the family of Pablo Picasso. As of September 2014, the museum is still not ready. Claude Picasso, Pablo’s only living son, was furious that the museum’s director (Anne Baldassari) was sacked by the Culture Ministry. She had been the driving force behind the renovations, and as a result of her dismissal, Claude Picasso threatened to withhold donations of his father’s work to the museum.

The 37 rooms of  renovated Musee Picasso are being temporarily opened this weekend  (Sept 2014) in honour of France's annual heritage weekend. But the rooms will be empty; the enormous collection of paintings and sculptural works will still be in storage.


The 17th-century Hôtel de Savoie on the Rue des Grands Augustins in the chic 6th arrondissement of Paris is one of the gorgeous grand mansions mentioned earlier. A plaque next to the building's wrought iron gates reveals that Pablo Picasso lived in this building between 1936 and 1955. It is in this studio he painted Guernica in 1937. The studio is "so large that the skylight fails to illuminate the corners"; it is reached via an impressive entrance hall and spiral staircase, recognisable from old photos showing Picasso at work.

Picasso's attic studio in  Hôtel de Savoie

According to Art Media Agency, a campaign is on to save the attic studio which is owned by the Chamber of Legal Bailiffs. The Association du Comité National pour l’Éducation Artistique completely renovated the space in 2002, and in the intervening years has used it to host free exhibitions, concerts, readings, and educational workshops. After years of rent-free tenancy, CNEA was evicted by the owners in August 2013, and Picasso's wide airy studio has sat vacant and tragic for months.


Andrew said...

I would think the general public, if they forked out the €52 million, might be judging Picasso junior quite harshly for withholding donations, no matter how justifiable his reasons.

Btw, do you do requests? Who were the Grimaldis?

Pat said...

We went in a mini bus tour to the Paris house where Picasso lived from the late 1930s to 1955. It was another of those great old 17th century hotels.

The artist loved living in that studio, but apparently there is a fight going on now over the property. Poor old Picasso.

Hels said...


When the general public forked out the €52 million, they were also rather displeased with the Culture Ministry. It has taken longer to renovate one museum than it took London to rebuild the entire city for the Olympic Games.

And yes, I hire out by the hour. The Grimaldis were a VERY old family whose original power base was Genoa. One branch of the family took over the Principality of Monaco nearly as long ago.

Hels said...


I looked up the news for the 17th-century Hôtel de Savoie. Apparently the fate of this Left Bank studio, where Picasso lived and worked for 2 decades, is up for grabs. The group that has owned the manor and studio, since before Picasso worked there, now wants to renovate it as a luxury hotel. A historic preservation panel has to make its decision.

diane b said...

That is a sad story about Picasso's studio and the Museum renovations faltering.
When I was in Antibes we went to the Picasso museum but it was closed for renovations.

Mandy Southgate said...

Gosh, it is almost frightening reading this post to imagine a world where all of this doesn't end up well and a great part of Picasso's legacy is lost or kept in storage.

I'm in Paris at the moment! I'm sad to say that touring and going to art galleries and museums is not inter agenda. We're going to St Germain-en-Lay today to track down the Jewish orphanage my mum and uncle lived in during the 50s.

Hels said...


There is nothing so irritating, when you are abroad, to plan the places you want to visit, then find one is unexpectedly closed. I suppose if you were in Rome or Berlin for a week, there would be plenty of time to rethink your plans. But if you are in Antibes for 8 hours, you might be a bit peeved.

Apart from Mondays when many museums, galleries etc are routinely closed, places shut for renovations SHOULD MAKE IT CLEAR ON THEIR WEB PAGE THAT THEY ARE CLOSED!!!

Hels said...


what a terrific trip! I hope it goes very well indeed. The year before my mother in law died, she took us to the places she loved in and near Prague - her home, her business, the children's school etc. We all had a fantastic journey.

Re Picasso, the Paris Museum in the Marais will open for sure, but when and at what cost? The attic studio in Hôtel de Savoie may well be lost :(

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, One worries about the smaller museums when even those protecting the works of monumental artists like Picasso run into such difficulties. It seems to me short-sighted indeed when a commercial development involves the dismantling (or significant altering) of such an historical monument as Picasso's studio.

In recent years I have followed the major renovations of two important museums, Cleveland and Taipei, and it seems that in each case that the art, and serving the public that would best appreciate that art, is always the last and most minor consideration.

Hels said...


Saving the art, and serving the public who would appreciate that art, may well be the last and most minor consideration. But whose consideration? The owners of the property presumably - they, wilfully or from stupidity, don't seem to understand what the public wants!

Remember when the unique set of 12 Zurbarans was going to be separated and flogged off to the ends of the earth? If it wasn't for people power, donations, petitions and picketing, that treasure would have disappeared from Bishop Auckland and Durham.

The Musée Matisse said...

The Musée Matisse in Nice has been a national museum, specialising in Henri Matisse, since 1963. The terracotta building was originally a 17th century villa in the neighbourhood of Cimiez.

A short walk down the hill takes the visitor to Musée Marc Chagall.

Nathalie Aubert said...

As of October 2014, the surface area of the museum has doubled and exhibits 5,000 works by Picasso. It also hosts Picasso's impressive archives and, very interestingly, his own private collection of 150 works by artists such as Braque, Matisse, Cezanne, Rousseau, Renoir, Chardin, Courbet and Corot. It also hosts a large room dedicated to Picasso's African and Oceanian art collection, including ethnographic sculptures purchased from 1907 onwards which held a special place for Picasso.

The collection shows how Picasso transformed everything to incorporate in his works all of life. This was his revolution and one that is magnificently displayed in the newly reopened museum.