Located in a picturesque valley of fruit trees, surrounded by hills blanketed in green oak, and watched over by the white peaks of Canigou, it’s easy to understand how Ceret, our ‘home’ for two weeks, inspired so many artists to move here and paint its pastel-coloured houses and colossal plane trees – and how this tiny village came to have such a fine modern art museum.
The most noted artists to spend time here were Picasso and Braque, but many other modern artists also passed through, from Chagall to Soutine. As a result, Ceret’s Museum of Modern Art (Musée d’Art Moderne Céret) must be one of the most impressive art museums to be found in such a small village.
When you buy your tickets, staff will tell you to take the door on the left after seeing the photography collection (comprised of black and white images of Frank Burty Havilland, who started the museum) and visit the downstairs rooms (devoted to a retrospective of Burty Havilland), before heading upstairs, and only then – after you return downstairs – take the door to the right of the one you entered, to see the final rooms.
I recommend you do the reverse, starting with the last rooms first. That door on the right leads to the museum’s prize collection of modern art – the paintings most tourists come to Ceret to see – by Chagall, Picasso, Gris, and other greats.
Most of this collection consists of paintings depicting Ceret itself that artists painted when they lived here or visited. If you’ve already taken a stroll around Ceret you will recognize the Place de la Liberté painted by both Jean Marchand and Arbit Blates, La Place du Barri à Ceret by Pinkus Krémègne, and, in Pierre Brune’s Platanes à Ceret, the town’s famous lofty plane trees, found on our street Boulevard Arago.
There are also works that artists painted while living here that aren’t necessarily of Ceret, although Picasso was obviously very inspired by the village’s toros to produce so many bowls featuring bullfighting scenes. There’s a room of some 28 of these, along with urns, plates and platters he made, and two of his paintings.
The highlight for me were two enchanting paintings by Marc Chagall, including La Guerre (1943) and Les Gens du Voyages (1968), or ‘the travellers’. Instantly recognisable from the other end of the galleries, these vibrant, pretty paintings are magnetic.
Overall, it’s a nice little collection that’s worthy of your time if you love modern art, although if people have told you it’s one of France’s best and you’ve believed them, you might be disappointed. Frustratingly, aside from the labels for the individual artworks, there is no other background or interpretive information. If you want to know more, you better buy the museum guide from the gift shop after you buy your tickets.
The rooms upstairs are devoted to temporary collections of contemporary art, none of which were very interesting (to me) when I visited, which is why I suggest you start downstairs, and spend most of your time here, then head upstairs afterwards.
When you’re done at the museum, pick up the brochure from the tourist office called ‘Céret, un siècle de Paysages sublimés 1909-2009′ which includes a map of Ceret and thumbnails of 22 paintings of the village by artists such as Picasso, Dufy, Gris, and Braque, some of which you would have seen in the museum. At the actual locations of the thumbnails, you’ll find signage featuring the painting and some background information, generally located in front of the scene depicted. Following the map will lead you on a very pleasant art-focused walking tour along the cobblestone streets of Ceret.
Aside from the museum, there are half a dozen art galleries in Ceret, and over a dozen artist ateliers that you can visit, although many were closed when we were there; some can be visited throughout the year by appointment only (there’s usually a sign on the door with a phone number), while others don’t open in winter.
The Ville of Céret (town hall) publishes a glossy brochure for the ‘Saison‘ which they distribute in April, which lists galleries, ateliers, exhibitions, events and festivals for the coming tourist season.