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. logoClick here to book a hotel in Marseille

This beautiful hôtel particulier was created in 1694 for a marine trading company. It had various owners before being acquired by the industrialist and art-lover Jules Cantini, who bequeathed to to the city.

It became an art gallery in 1936 and has recently been completely refurbished.

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.

It includes photographs of old Marseille by leading practitioners of the medium such as Man Ray and László Moholy-Nagy, as well as a strong line-up of post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Surrealism, with 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. There are 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 [mac] / Museum of Modern Art in 1995, the Cantini has been notionally dedicated to the first part of the 20th century. But the time period covered by the two galleries overlaps to some extent and the Musée Cantini owns a number of sculptures and other pieces from the 1970s and 1980s.

This permanent collection is often cleared to make space for major temporary exhibitions. Recent shows here have included a splendid retrospective of 19th century masterpices on loan from the Burrell Collection in Glasgow. Click here to read our full review.

Other events have included a celebration of the fine glasswork of Le Cirva, an international glass research centre based in Marseille, and Le Rêve (The Dream). This was a mysterious and fascinating journey through dreams, fantasies, nightmares, hallucinations and awakenings - rude or otherwise. Click here to read our full review.

herve telemaque fonds dactualiteIn 2015 the museum also mounted an excellent retrospective dedicated to the Haitian-born Hervé Télémaque: click here to read our full review. Pictured: Fonds d'actualité no.1 by Télémaque.

The Musée Cantini has celebrated the French surrealist André Masson. Other tributes have included a retrospective of the Romanian surrealist Jacques Hérold.

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

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.

Among his creations: 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 [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.

There's an excellent book and gift shop, and a play area for children to create their own art. The museum has a lift / elevator to its upper floor and vehicle access for disabled visitors by prior arrangement.

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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