Musee Regards de Provence in MarseilleA showcase for provençal art, the Musée Regards de Provence is also a fascinating historic building in its own right. logoClick here to book a hotel in Provence

It belongs to the Fondation Regards de Provence, an organisation which owns a collection of around 900 artworks created in and about Provence.

Until recently the Fondation was based in the Palais des Arts, formerly the city library and archive, an ornate building designed by Henri-Jacques Espérandieu, the architect of Notre Dame de la Garde. Its new premises are very different, however.

Located near the Cathedral in the very fast-expanding port area of Marseille, the Musée Regards de Provence structure was built in 1948. The architect was Fernand Pouillon, who also designed the big, brutalist apartment blocks lining the northern quay of Marseille's Old Port.

The Musee Regards de Provence and Cathedral, MarseillePictured, the museum on 28 February 2013, the day before its inauguration, with the Cathedral and a lingering crane in the background.

The building's original purpose was as a station sanitaire or sanitary station, where people arriving from abroad by sea or air went through a disinfection, screening and vaccination process in a bid to fight the city's ever-present threat of epidemics.

The building had been abandoned for some 40 years and was occupied by squatters when the Fondation acquired it in a lamentable state. Privately funded, the 6.5 million €uro restoration project was overseen by the Marseille architect Guy Daher.

Foyer area Musee Regards de Provence MarseilleOnce threatened with demolition, the station sanitaire is today a listed building. Sleek and very 1950s-looking yet also quite contemporary, this 1,115 square metre / 12,000 square foot space is a worthy companion to the two brand-new, ultra-modern museums just across the road, the Villa Méditerranée and the MuCEM.

The reception area is a large atrium, pictured, with a double-height ceiling lit by cloud-shaped lamps. Dotted around are plants and bulbous fibreglass sculptures which won't be to all tastes but which do indicate right away loud and clear that the Fondation is interested in contemporary as well as classic art.

On the left as you enter is a rather good art shop stocked with the Fondation's own excellent scholarly publications and other books on provençal art.

On the right in the salle des étuves (steam room) is a permanent installation, Mémoire de la station sanitaire (Memories of the Sanitary Station).

Conceived by the designers of Marseille's Mémorial de la Marseillaise, this 45-minute show - for which there is a small charge - explores the history of the plague in Marseille, immigration and the sanitary station.

It includes an evocative steampunk sound and light show starring the strange old machinery that's still there in situ. The presentation is in French with English subtitles.

Steamroom at the Musee Regards de Provence in MarseilleThe temporary exhibitions are housed in galleries on the ground and first floors. These are long and low-ceilinged with unusual but surprisingly harmonious proportions, and the windows along both the front and the back walls make them very luminous.

There are two shows on at the Musée Regards de Provence. One is called Sa Muse... and playfully explores the relationship of artists with their models. 10 February-26 August.

The other is 20 Ans Regards de Provence and features highlights from the 65 exhibitions the museum has staged in its two decade long history. 9 June-17 February 2019.

Looking further ahead, the museum hopes to stage an exhibition of the outrageous avant-garde artist from Nice simply known as Arman.

Last but not least is the Regards Café on the second floor. Snacks, drinks and simple lunches are served here in an elegant, 1950s-retro interior or on an outdoor terrace. Both overloook the port, the MuCEM and Fort Saint Jean, the Villa Méditerranée and the Cathedral.

You can drop in there (or visit the bookshop on the ground floor) without paying to go into the exhibitions. Turn left as you enter and take the lift / elevator or stairs up.

The restaurant offers special deals for groups (details on the museum's website) and can get crowded. Arrive early or reserve a table for the best views.

Insider tip for the Musee Regards de Provence MarseilleDon't worry if the restaurant is full: the outdoor terrace arguably has the best views of all, and you can buy a salad and drinks at the counter to take out and eat there.

Click here to read full reviews of previous shows at the Fondation Regards de Provence dedicated to Roger Blachon, René Seyssaud, Joseph Garibaldi, Alfred Lombard, the artists of the Bateau Lavoir, the poster designer David Dellepiane and Quirin Mayer.

Where: The Musée Regards de Provence, allée Regards de Provence, rue Vaudoyer, 13002 Marseille. Tel: (+33) 4 91 42 51 50. Website for the Fondation Regards de Provence.

How to get there: The Musée Regards de Provence sits to the north of the Old Port, just beyond the Fort Saint Jean, near the spur of land known as the J4 Esplanade and the Sainte Marie Majeur Cathedral.

You can walk there in five-ten minutes from the Old Port. Alternatively, take bus 82, 82S or 60.

The museum is a somewhat further walk from the nearest metro (Vieux Port or Joliette) or tram (République/Dames or Joliette) stops.


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