Built on Saint-Barthélémy hill, the Villa Arson property extends over more than two hectares offering a magnificent view over the city of Nice and the Bay of Angels. A maze of intermingled concrete, stone and vegetation, with inner streets and patios, outdoor amphitheaters, suspended terraces and gardens, harmoniously connecting around the old mansion of the Arson family.
Designed in the 60s by architect Michel Marot, this singular architectural ensemble built in the middle of a Mediterranean garden should be discovered during a leisurely stroll. The low built architecture, which has no façade, extends over 17,000 square meters and follows the hill’s topography. Throughout the property one can encounter works created by contemporary artists in relation to the architecture and the gardens.
The Villa Arson is a unique national institution dedicated to contemporary art. It reunites in a single venue a school of art, an art center, an artists’ residence and a specialized library. The building has been listed « Patrimoine du XXe siècle ». [Heritage of the 20th century].
The Villa Arson is situated west of Cimiez (Cemenelum), on a site whose history goes back to Antiquity, as is demonstrated by the presence of a secondary roman road on the east side of the hill.
In the 16th and 17th centuries
A community of Capuchin monks from Tuscany settled on the fertile hill of Saint-Barthélémy.
In the 18th century
Count Jean-Jérôme Peyre de la Coste, consul of Nice, erected a Genovese style mansion facing the sea on the 6.5 hectare estate, whose imposing size was already that of the future Villa Arson. After the revolutionary and Napoleonic episodes, the estate became national property.
The villa and the estate on Saint-Barthélémy hill were purchased for a country home by a rich merchant, Pierre-Joseph Arson. Within fifteen years he benefited from an exceptional social ascent, rising from the trading elite to the nobility frequenting the sovereigns of Sardinia, and held in the prestigious function of first consul of Nice. An atypical character, fascinated by esotericism, he was the inspiration for Balzac’s novel La Recherche de l’Absolu [The Quest of the Absolute] published in 1834.
The villa was rented out by Arson’s descendants (it remained property of the family until 1920) and became a luxury hotel, the Saint-Barthélémy.
The villa was transformed into a medical home, the Cyrnos clinic.
In the context of urban development the estate of the Villa Arson (now only 2.5 hectares) became a protected site listed by the Historical Monuments and Sites. When the lease of the Cyrnos clinic expired in 1964, the city of Nice became the owners of the estate.
The City of Nice donated the villa Arson estate to the state to build a new type of artistic institution, open to international exchanges, an university of arts, defined by a project by André Malraux.
The architectural project was entrusted to Michel Marot. The realization included several buildings encasing the old ocher 19th century villa, and occupying almost the entire piece of land (17,000 square meters).
The Villa Arson was inaugurated, the former school of Decorative Arts of Nice (created in 1881 on Tonduti de l’Escarène street) moved in and the CARI (Centre artistique de rencontres internationales (Artistic center for international encounters)) was created with the mission of organizing thematic exhibitions and setting up an artists’ residence. The official inauguration was in 1972.
In the middle of the 1980s
With the Minister of Culture Jack Lang’s policy of support to the visual arts, the Villa Arson abandoned the teaching of the decorative arts and turned to teaching the most contemporary practices. The École pilote internationale d’art et de recherche (Experimental International School of Art and Research) (now the École nationale supérieure d’art, National Higher School of Art) was created, and the CARI was replaced by the Centre national d’art contemporain (National Center for Contemporary Art).
During the 2000s
The Villa Arson was listed as “Heritage of the 20th century”, the studio for creation in the digital arts (now the “pôle numérique”) was opened, and the Educational department was created. Spaces were renovated, studios re-equipped, terraces upgraded and gardens reconfigured.