The Musee Granet, Aix en ProvenceOnce a sleepy provincial gallery, the Granet Museum has, thanks to some important loans and bequests, built up a fine collection of modern art over the last decade. It now stages several major exhibitions a year. logoClick here to book a hotel in Aix en Provence

Most galleries organise shows and events around individual artists or historical movements. The Musée Granet does this too at times, as in its popular 2016 show celebrating the Marseille painter Charles Camoin.

But it has also often spotlighted private collectors with exhibitions gathering together works chosen by a visionary individual enthusiast. It’s an intriguing and revealing approach.

Recent examples have included Chefs d'Oeuvre de la Collection Pearlman (Masterpieces from the Pearlman Collection), a showcase for the discerning eye of the American businessman Henry Pearlman; Icônes américaines, (American Icons), featuring the Fisher Collection at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco; the Frieder Burda collection from Baden-Baden, Germany; and Passion de l'Art (A Passion for Art) which, even more unusually, explored the work of the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger Gallery and art dealership in Paris.

portrait granetThe Granet's big summer exhibition compares Pablo Picasso to his near-contemporary, the French cubist Francis Picabia, who tackled similar themes, but from a very different perspective. 9 June-23 September.

Pictured: François Marius Granet (1775-1849), the Aix-born artist who originally founded the museum

In spite of its lively current programme, the Musée Granet will never live down the fact that it has just a handful of works in its permanent collection by Aix's most famous son.

Paul Cézanne studied life drawing at the museum as a young man. He offered it dozens of paintings in later life, but was rudely rejected.

"Never in my lifetime will any of his works enter here," declared the then-curator Auguste-Henri Pontier, a minor sculptor whose own work has long since passed into obscurity.

Still, the Musée Granet has since done its best to make up for this embarrassing blunder, with a spectacular blockbuster retrospective in 2006 marking the centenary of the artist's death, followed by another major show, Picasso Cézanne, in 2009.

It has secured other works by Cézanne on temporary long-term loan and in 2011, acquired the only known portrait by Cézanne of his childhood friend, the writer Emile Zola, painted before the two men became estranged in later life (click here to read about a film of this story).

The ten Cézanne paintings at the Granet also include a small study for Les Baigneuses, pictured, and a portrait of Madame Cézanne. However they are frequently away on loan.

Les Baigneuses, Paul Cezanne, Musee Granet, AixThe museum also owns some late watercolours of Mont Sainte Victoire as well as drawings and enragvings. But these too are only on display intermittently for conservation reasons. So don't make Cézanne the basis for your expedition to the Musée Granet.

Still, there are plenty of other things to see. One of the museum's key long-term loans came in 2000 from the collector Philippe Meyer. It includes an impressive cluster of 19 pieces by Giacometti as well as works by Léger, Mondrian, Klee and others.

In 2010 the Musée Granet received another loan, this time from the Fondation Planque. The estate of the Swiss collectors Jean and Suzanne Planque comprises some 300 works by Degas, Klee, Picasso, Braque and more.

At first space constraints at the Granet - based in the 17th century Palais of Malta, the former priory of the Knights of Malta, in the Mazarin Quarter - prevented these riches from all being on display.

But in 2013 a new annexe was created to house the Planque Collection at the nearby 17th century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs.

Back at the Musée Granet's main building, the permanent collection includes finds from the Celto-Ligurian archaeological site (dating from the third to second centuries BC) at Entremont, just north of Aix: limestone sculptures of warriors, ceramics, jewellery, and implements. Other galleries are devoted to a lot of rather dull 19th century marble busts and sculptures.

Jupiter and Thetis by IngresThere are also paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries, including pieces by Rubens and Rembrandt. A whole room is dedicated to Granet, the local painter whose personal collection formed the original basis of the museum.

Alas, he was himself an undistinguished artist. But the display includes a lovely portrait of Granet, pictured above, by a greater talent, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. Ingres' giant, deeply strange and ambivalent Jupiter and Thetis (1811), pictured, is one of the museum's most arresting works.

The signage is in French only, but an audio guide is available in English, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. There is also an audio guide for children.

The Musée Granet has no cafeteria. However there are machines dispensing coffee, soft drinks and snacks and a pleasant courtyard for resting in.

Insider Tip for the Musee GranetEntrance to the Musée Granet is free, apart from certain major exhibitions, on the first Sunday of every month. (Note that this freebie does not apply between June and September.)

Where: Musée Granet, place Saint Jean de Malte and the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, place Jean-Boyer (at the top of the rue du maréchal Joffre), 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 52 88 32

The front entrance of the main building is acceded by steps, but there is wheelchair access at 18 rue Roux Alphéran, just round the corner. Website for the Musée Granet


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