Pablo Picasso fell in love six times… at least. A Russian ballerina, a photographer, a popular studio model… wildly chasing a muse from woman to woman and leaving depression, suicide, loneliness in his wake. Personal strife has been accepted historically as the price a muse must pay in order to inspire a great artist, while the same artist is readily forgiven their bad behavior as it is considered a natural result of genius.
Picasso grew up in Spain but chose to spend most of his adult life in France. Like many of his contemporaries he found himself on the French Riviera with Sarah and Gerald Murphy – a wealthy American couple who spent their time sunbathing and hosting lavish parties. The couple became patrons and friends to many prominent creatives of the time (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Man Ray, Cole Porter…) forming the epicenter of what Gertrude Stein would later coin the “Lost Generation”.
While Picasso was in Antibes, he produced a number of paintings, sculptures and ceramics of which many were donated to the city and eventually installed in a museum which became the first museum to be dedicated to a living artist. Chateau Grimaldi sits crowning the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and houses over 240 pieces of Picasso’s work within its stone walls.
Eyes bleary and our luggage heavier than we remembered my brother and I crossed the border into France on the first train from Genoa. The sun was rising over a landscape dominated by green hills and small clusters of houses still sleeping. groups of travelers nestled into the corners of the train station, a cold air lingering on from the night pervading the long hallways. We opted for the view and standing on a thin cement ledge, our hands gripping a metal fence, we took in the light breaking the warmth of a new day onto a new horizon. Birds started singing and one after another took flight, soaring over the ever brightening scene. Their dark bodies contrasted beautifully with the pale blue of the morning sky.
The train to Nice was a short one and we took the opportunity to doze off in the sunlight as it flickered in through the wide glass windows. Once we arrived the day had gotten some momentum and the small city on the French Riviera was awake and having a late breakfast. Deciding food was a good idea we bought some fresh bread and went to the beach. Nice has what is called a pebble beach, instead of fine sand it has small weathered stones of varying hues. After choosing a good picnic spot we sat down to enjoy our own breakfast. I quickly noticed that among the pebbles was scattered pieces of a strange kind of glass. It was frosted and smooth but not larger than the rest of the stones. it was the first time I had seen sea glass and the idea was inspiring. More than 50 years ago someone tossed an empty bottle out into the open ocean and that bottle was smashed and broken and rolled around during thousands of storms until it was polished and smooth and just light enough to be washed up onto the beach. I selected a few of the most interesting specimens as we finished breakfast.
Back on the train that afternoon, we continued to follow the Mediterranean stopping for the evening in Antibes. I was tired. The glory of the morning and the slow burn of our mid-morning fuel had finally been exhausted and it was all I could do not to surrender myself to the soft bed at the modest hotel we checked into. But, I was in France and on the Riviera so I managed to convince myself to close the door on the cool white sheets and the downy pillow that were calling to me like sirens to a sailor and we set out again to see what we could discover.
After about an hour of walking around we ended up at the marina and among a forest of sailboats bobbing up and down with the waves casting shadows on the wooden planks lined up in front of us. Next we made our way up to the Picasso museum, Chateau Grimaldi. The rooms were cool and quiet and nearly sleep-walking, I followed the sweet breeze as it wafted through the open rooms. That night I slept very well and we left Antibes on the first train the next morning.
A short distance down the cost the train stopped in Cannes. We hauled the bags from the carriage down onto the platform and were instantly surrounded by activity. The platform was electrified with people moving in all directions. Apparently the infamous Cannes Film Festival was to start shortly and movie crews, future super stars and a healthy amount of up-and-comers all crowded the station. Relieved to be escaping hysteria of the crowd, we boarded a train that would take us to Spain. Safely aboard the train I peered down on the manic sea of people from the deep blue velveteen and tried to distinguish the muses from the “great artists”.