This is the fourth book I have read on the artistic life on the Riviera. I am therefore tempted to ask John Pargiter to quote me odds on how long it takes any author to cite Somerset Maugham’s description of it as “a sunny place for shady people”. According to John Baxter, a science fiction writer and cinema historian, Maugham said this of Monte Carlo.
This a gossipy sometimes salacious read which does examine the motivation that draws artist to this coastline. For many years it was a winter resort. It was only when one traveller did not proceed into Italy because of plague and stayed the summer in the South of France that made it the summer resort it is today. The American socialites Gerald and Sarah Murphy moved it on to become the playground of the rich and Scott Fitzgerald immortalised it in Tender is the Night.
Initially health was great driver. Novelists DH Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield had tuberculosis and live and died here for the better air and sunshine . For many of the modern masters of art, the light and a safe haven drove them south: Marc Chagall made his home in St Paul de Vence, Picasso had various homes in Vallauris and Mougins, Pierre Bonnard resided in Le Cannet. Dufy, Andre Derain, Henri Matisse all painted wonderfully here.
Baxter also ascribes the great institutions of the Riviera, the casinos, the great villas, the grand hotels: the Hotel du Cap at Antibes where Joe Kennedy took his mistress Marlene Dietrich, later she denied the affaire to her lover and Joe’s son Jack aka President John Kennedy.
Graham Greene, based too in Antibes, though never divorced had many affairs whilst Somerset Maugham led a social and debauched life in Cap Ferrat in Villa Mauresque.
Some of the later novels in the Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr where the Berlin Cop becomes house detective in the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat describe Maugham and Cap Ferrat life vividly.
Baxter’s knowledge of films as he had written biographies of George Lucas, Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick enable him describe the Cannes Film festival and To catch a Thief in greater detail than when is reviewing artist and writers . The book is a pot boiler , easy to write ,easy to read but it will enhance the enjoyment of anyone traveling to ths unique part of the world and help all of to understand its everlasting appeal