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Posts tagged ‘Paul Cézanne’

Provence Odyssey | Aix: Day 10 – Au revoir, not goodbye

As the saying goes, let us not say goodbye, but as the French have it, “Au Revoir!”, two words laced with the promise of a return, rather than the abject finality that accompanies the English alternative. Perhaps it is the romance of the French language which encourages such optimism in an otherwise sad parting, or the mere fact that the charm of France makes saying goodbye a near impossibility. Whatever the reason, as we prepared to bid Aix, and Provence farewell at the end of this incredible Provençal Odyssey, we knew, instinctively, that some day we would return. For despite the decent length of our journey, and the multiple sights seen and senses tickled, these days felt like a mere taster of a gigantic feast of pleasure still left undiscovered in Southern France, and for that reason alone, the assurance of a return tends towards reality.

With that ounce of optimism giving us back some bounce in our otherwise sad last steps in the incredible city of Aix, we were minded, as ever, to make the most of our last hours in the city, strolling, at times aimlessly, at others with purpose, in an attempt to take in the very last essence of this place before our departure.

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We started our day, perhaps rather morbidly, but yet appropriately I think, by following the last section of the city’s “Cézanne trail” towards the Cemetery of Saint Pierre where the great artist is buried. The visit felt appropriate, not just because, as the final resting place of so many people, it became somewhat symbolic of the end of our Provençal journey, but also because, having been inspired to visit Provence by the significant artistic connections it carries, it felt only right that we would pay homage to the father of them all in his final place of peace; a note of thanks to the father of modern art.

I’ve always rather liked cemeteries, particularly those in the Mediterranean, baked as they are by the glorious sunshine, yet emitting peace and tranquility amongst the shadows of dark cypress trees and pines. This cemetery was no different, providing an almost mesmeric experience as one walked from one elegant grave to another, aware of a family’s sadness in the multiple lives lost here, yet also feeling strangely at peace, somehow contented by the final rest of so many. The cemetery was much bigger than I had supposed, and looking up hill towards the far reaches of the site made for an incredible vista of crosses and little family mausoleums, collectively appearing like a great wave of stone and symbols.

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It took us some time to find the grave of Cézanne, a difficulty not helped by the lack of proper signage and the fact that he lies under a surprisingly innocuous gravestone when compared with many of his neighbours’ lavishly decorated headstones, and also strangely devoid of flowers or tributes from other visitors. This is perhaps testament to the sad lack of respect his city had for him in life, and yet he can lie in peace knowing how incredibly significant his life’s work has been for the art world since. Putting at least the lack of flowers to rights, I lay a simple sheaf of lavender upon his grave, feeling at that moment a great connection with the artistic heritage laid down by this man, an artist so often misunderstood but whose genius will live on forever, both in his own work and the work of countless others who followed in his wake.

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Heading back to civilisation for a final encounter with Aix’s bustling centre, we also felt as though we were resurrecting Cézanne along side us as we headed back to the world of the living. For strolling one last time down Aix’s most prominent avenue, the Cours Mirabeau, with its almost unbroken shelter of plane trees, we dropped in to the Café Les Deux Garçons, the very café where Cézanne would sit each evening to enjoy an aperatif, and where we now went about sipping our last coffee in Aix, gazing upon the chic residents of this city strolling past, breathing the warm fragrant air of Provence, and already planning how, and when we would return to this incredible part of France.

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And with that our Odyssey ended; a finale effected with such efficiency that it was almost as though our story ended just as it had begun. For with holidays like this, each and everyone of us has the opportunity to truly live a dream, and when, like any dream, you walk amongst the pages of its imagination, it feels so real – like there is no other world beyond. But as with every dream, at some point you must awaken, as reality floods back in with the harsh light of day. And so it was that our Odyssey ran dry at last, and London life took hold once again. But not completely. For with this blog, through my paintings, my photographs, and of course the sachets of lavender now to be found placed strategically around my flat, the essence of our Provençal Odyssey still lives on, and will continue to do so, sewing itself into the rich patchwork quilt of our memories which will continue giving us comfort for years to come.

Thank you all so much for reading and sharing in our journey. But it’s not quite over yet – come back tomorrow for my last Provence photo collection. Until then.

The Cours Mirabeau

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Provence Odyssey | Aix: Day 9 – In search of Cézanne

You know that you are approaching Aix when you see the looming multi-dimensional silhouette of the Mont Sainte-Victoire rising up over the horizon. Thanks to the multiple depictions of this magnificent mountain by the city’s most famous son, Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne, the city of Aix-en-Provence, cosmopolitan gem of Southern France, together with its ever faithful mountainous backdrop, has been placed firmly on the cultural map of Europe. They say that one should leave the best till last, and this we surely did when we made Aix the last stop of our 10 day Provençal Odyssey.

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It became immediately clear that Aix is a busy, bustling city, with the sense of something chic and Parisian about it, but at the same time maintaining the sleepy charm of the Provence region. In Aix, the shutters and pastel colours seen across Provence are here in their multitudes, but instead of narrow little streets, here they decorate vast plazas and long tree-lined boulevards. Like the verdant rolling countryside around it, Aix is abundant with plan trees and cypresses, pine trees and olives, yet those trees cast their dappled light not upon fields, but over the exquisitely decorated facades of churches and palaces, of museums and grand cafes, and over the broad pavements which facilitate the art of strolling along shop-lined avenues. And best of all in Aix are the fountains. Said to be the “City of a Thousand Fountains”, the real number is thought to be closer to 100, but Aix is truly abundant in water, in dancing leaping and trickling water, all caught in the great basins of these baroque fountain sculptures, which are at the centre of every square and street.

Aix’s resplendent fountains…

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No wonder Aix is so magnificent – it was the capital of Provence one upon a time, and today is an international students’ town, full of culture, cafes and a general air of excitement. And of course one of the greatest pleasures about visiting Aix is to indulge in all that excitement on offer, to perambulate along its fashionable streets, and to sit by its many fountains, sipping upon a coffee or cooling down with an ice cream or two – more about that later. But my first priority on visiting this city was to discover its most famous resident, the somewhat reclusive artist but often called the Father of Modern Art – Paul Cézanne.

Cézanne grew up and spent most of his life in Aix. Of course he did make a trip or two to Paris, and it was there that he first discovered impressionism. However, it was in the heartland of Southern France that Cézanne really felt at home, and it was undoubtedly the rugged scenery of Provence and the immediate surroundings of Aix that helped to characterise Cézanne’s development from the dappled light of Impressionist works, to the rugged geometric depictions of his Post-Impressionist oeuvre. The origins of cubism had been born.

Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire

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Aix, perhaps predictably, relishes its connection with this foremost artistic genius (although sadly it didn’t at the time Cézanne was painting in the city) and today its tourist office provides an excellent and very comprehensive walking tour both through and around the city, picking up on all of the various places of relevance to both Cézanne and his family along the way. Sadly we did not have time to do the whole tour (although I think we may survive not seeing where Cézanne’s mother’s brother’s friend lived), not least because with Aix basking under the reflective glory of nearby Marseille’s status as European Capital of Culture 2013, there were plenty of cultural activities we wanted to pack into our short two-night stay. However, what we did prioritise was two integral aspects of Cézanne’s life and work in Aix: His studio, and the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire itself.

Cézanne’s studio 

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L’Atelier de Cézanne (the studio of Cézanne) is a good 20 minute walk uphill out of Aix, but it’s a walk taking the earnest visitor gradually out into the verdant pastures of suburban Aix, with views of the city growing gradually more impressive as the road rises. The studio itself provides an absolutely fascinating insight into Cézanne. It’s essentially just a one room museum devoted to Cézanne, but not a museum with story boards and animations – this is simply the artist’s studio, with the various props scattered around which he used in his many still life compositions. Of course Cézanne is as much famous for his still life depictions of apples and oranges as he is for the Mont Sainte-Victoire, but those paintings were more often than not depicting fruit clustered around other objects – old pots and bottles, and a broken mannequin.

It was consequently fascinating to walk into the studio and see before you those same objects which have now become so well-known to the art lover through Cézanne’s works. That broken mannequin for example was immediately recognisable from the Courtauld’s Still Life with Cherub, and there too were the skulls from his Pyramid of Skulls. It was also fascinating to see the methods of his work in this studio which still smells of oil paint and turpentine – his tall ladder to work on larger paintings, and a large vertical hole in the wall through which larger canvases such as his Bathers series (which were painted at this studio) could travel in and out. Meanwhile, outside of the little studio house, the overgrown gardens really give the impression of the kind of solitude and reclusiveness which Cézanne preferred to maintain throughout most of his working life.

Still Life with Cherub (1895)

Still Life with Cherub (1895)

The Basket of Apples (1890-1894)

The Basket of Apples (1890-1894)

The Pyramid of Skulls (1901)

The Pyramid of Skulls (1901)

Still Life, draper, pitcher and fruit bowl (1893-4)

Still Life, draper, pitcher and fruit bowl (1893-4)

The Bathers (1898-1905)

The Bathers (1898-1905)

Studio done, and the creative air of Cézanne breathed in deeply, we headed up hill for about another 20 minutes to visit what is now called “Le Terrain des Peintres” – literally Painter’s Ground – said to be the exact spot where Cézanne would go to paint the magnificent view of the Mont Sainte-Victoire. Today, the space takes the form of pleasantly manicured garden, with some reproductions of his paintings set around the walls of the gardens. But other than that, it is a quiet spot, blissfully free from the tourist hoards who frequented his studio, probably because of its distance from the city, and its lack of parking for coaches.

And the view? Just stunning. In that moment, turning around and catching the view of the glorious pastel-shaded mountain rising out of the field-covered horizon, I felt my breath sucked away from me as in this moment of epiphany I felt myself somehow drawn back into an artistic past – a period of artistic revolution, when the dominance of nature was recognised, when shape was reinvented, and when colour rose to the fore. For me, it was a highpoint of this Provençal Odyssey (both physically and metaphorically), the moment when I realised that  a whole century of artistic progression and development owes its dept to this place, to this artist, to the path from impressionism to cubism which he opened up through his genius and his insight, starting as he did so perhaps one of the most important revolutions of all time.

The magnificent Mont Sainte-Victoire

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More information on visiting Cézanne’s studio can be found here.