Musee CantiniIf you're in central Marseille and love 20th century art, the elegant Cantini Museum is a perfect spot to spend a pleasurable hour or two.

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This beautiful hôtel particulier was created in 1694 for a marine trading company. It passed through various hands before being acquired by the industrialist and art-lover Jules Cantini, who bequeathed to to the city. It became an art gallery in 1936.

A sweeping mosaic-tiled forecourt and high-ceilinged hallway usher you into a spacious house which provides a supremely peaceful backdrop to a discerning permanent collection.

However the museum's own holdings are often cleared to make space for major temporary exhibitions.

The next one is called Une Maison de Verre (A House of Glass). It opens on 17 March and celebrates the fine glasswork of Le Cirva, an international glass research centre based in Marseille.

dream cantini marseilleThe most recent exhibition at the Cantini Museum was called Le Rêve (The Dream), a mysterious and fascinating journey through dreams, fantasies, nightmares, hallucinations and awakenings - rude or otherwise.

It gathered around 100 works by 70 different artists including some of the biggest names in 19th and 20th century art: Rodin, Goya, Miro, Chagall... Click here to read our full review.

In 2015 the museum mounted a superb retrospective dedicated to the Haitian-born Hervé Télémaque (b, 1937): click here to read our full review. Pictured: Fonds d'actualité no.1 by Télémaque.

herve telemaque fonds dactualiteMore recently the Musée Cantini celebrated the French surrealist André Masson (1896-1987). Other tributes have included a retrospective of the Romanian surrealist Jacques Hérold.

There have also been shows devoted to Georg Baselitz (b. 1938), one of Germany's most celebrated artists, the Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta (1911-2002) and the Marseille-born and -bred sculptor César Baldaccini (1921-1998).

Part of the Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism) movement, along with Arman, Yves Klein and others, César is celebrated for his sculptures made of scrap metal, in particular compressed cars.

He created the trophy for the César Awards (France's equivalent of the Oscars) which are, in fact, even named after him.

His giant thumb (Le Pouce) sits permanently on the roundabout on the avenue de Hambourg near the Musée d'Art Contemporain [mac] in the south of Marseille (another of his thumbs can be seen at La Défense in Paris).

Another exhibition at the Musée Cantini was titled Le rêveur éveillé (The Waking Dreamer) and was dedicated to yet another surrealist, Belgium's Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), a near contemporary of René Magritte. It was his first major show in France.

The Musée Cantini's permanent collection includes photographs of old Marseille by leading practitioners of the medium such as Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, but the heart of the collection is devoted to Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism, and includes fine pieces by Ernst, Léger, Picasso, Rothko, Miró, Le Corbusier and Kandinsky.

Oskar Kokoschka, Le Port de MarzseilleA number depict local landmarks such as the Old Port as seen by Alfred Marquet or Oskar Kokoschka (pictured), a number of views of L'Estaque by Raoul Dufy, pine trees near Cassis by André Derain and the Vallon des Auffes by Alfred Lombard.

Some art historians claim that, after Venice, Marseille is the most often portrayed city in Europe.

The surrealist section has a particular Marseille connection: in 1940 and early 1941, many surrealists passed through the city on their way into exile from the German Occupation. The famous Jeu de Marseille, a version of tarot, was invented by them here.

The Cantini museum also has a significant collection of work by the post-war group of Japanese artists called Gutai.

Since the opening of Marseille's Musée d'Art Contemporain / Museum of Modern Art (MAC) in 1995, the Cantini has been notionally dedicated to the first part of the 20th century, but it does own a number of sculptures and other pieces from the 1970s and 1980s.

There's an excellent book and gift shop too, and a play area for children to create their own art.

To round off your visit in style, visit the pâtisserie of Sylvain Depuichaffray (turn left as you leave the museum and walk a couple of blocks) for some other fine art-works. This time, though, they are edible ones.

Where: The Musée Cantini, 19 rue Grignan, 13006 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 54 77 75. Website for the Musée Cantini.

 

 

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