Follow in the footsteps of the artist Cezanne in Aix-en-Provence, his charming city

by NewsTimeOffice



Ca alors, that really Paul Cezanne? Post-Impressionist painter with hat and walking stick standing next to Fontaine de la Rotonde, easel strapped to his back.

Somehow the life-size bronze statue of Aix-en-Provence’s favorite son looks bewildered by the attention he’s attracting.

Next month, Cézanne is coming to London’s Tate Modern in a ‘once-in-a-generation, career-spanning retrospective’ of his life and work. I traveled in reverse. In Cézanne’s sun-drenched, simple birthplace of southern France and the surroundings that inspired him, I’ll try to understand what all the fuss is about.

Fascinating: Martin Symington explores Aix-en-Provence, pictured, in southern France, the ‘sun-drenched, simple’ birthplace of artist Paul Cézanne

At left is a bronze statue of the Post-Impressionist painter from Aix-en-Provence, a place where Cézanne ‘lived and breathed’, according to Martin. To the right of the picture is Cézanne’s work Still Life with Fruit Dish. London’s Tate Modern is hosting a retrospective of the artist’s work next month

Cézanne lived and breathed Ax. Think Bath or Oxford to get an idea of ​​its beauty and history. ‘When you’re born there, nothing is good enough,’ is how the artist puts it.

A Cézanne-themed walkway marked with brass studs winds through the city, taking me to places like the house on rue de l’Opéra where the artist was born in 1839; the school where he and writer Émile Zola became lifelong friends; and Les Deux Garcons brasserie, where the pair would shoot the breeze.

The path leads into the medieval Mazarin quarter, which I love, with its shady squares and cool courtyards with bubbling fountains.

The narrow streets suddenly branch off into the Cours Mirabeau, the elite avenue lined with terrace cafes perfect for sipping a glass of chilled Provençal rosé.

The walk ends at the Atelier de Cezanne, his airy studio on Lauves Hill, left as it was; Canvas and oil, basket of ripe red apples, linseed and a paint-splattered ladder. I feel the aura of the artist. Perhaps he has popped out smoking a pipe?

The next morning I go to the Terrain des Paintres viewpoint, now a public park, just outside Aix, where Cézanne would sit facing Montagne Sainte-Victor.

Above is a room in the artist’s airy studio, the Atelier de Cezanne, which is ‘pretty much left as it was; Canvas and oil, basket of ripe red apples, flax shaker and paint-splattered ladder’

It is the majestic mountain that he painted compulsively – in more than 80 oils and watercolors. The subject may be the same but the paintings involve a panoply of angles, light and shadow, grey-blues, ochres and pools of green.

Several are in Tate exhibitions, curated to chronicle his drift towards more abstract work.

Driving along the Arc River, I see for myself how Saint-Victoire exerts its presence on the Ax and its surroundings. I follow the twisting road (these days known as the Route Cézanne, inevitably) he has traveled thousands of times with his horse and carriage in search of another mood in the mountains.

Pictured is Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the majestic mountain that Cézanne compulsively painted — more than 80 oils and watercolors.

Martin visited the Terrain des Paintres viewpoint (pictured), now a public park, just outside Aix, where Cézanne Montagne would sit overlooking Saint-Victoire

travel event

Kirker Holidays (kirkerholidays.com) offers three nights’ B&B at Hotel Le Pigonnet from £669 pp, including flights and transfers. Guided tours by secretsdici.fr. The exhibition EY: Cezanne runs at Tate Modern in London from October 5 to March 12, 2023 (tickets £22, tate.org.uk).

While unraveling the mystery of Carrières de Bibemus, a sandstone quarry 5 km east of Aix and another Cézanne obsession.

Access is restricted to guided groups, so with local expert Arthur Carlier I immerse myself in this orange rockscape scented with dark undergrowth and pine resin. We pause while viewing platforms displaying reproductions of the works where Cézanne painted them

‘Between 1895 and 1899, Cézanne lived more or less in this cut stone, experimenting with new techniques,’ says Arthur. Later, Picasso would be fascinated by the way he broke the mold here. Picasso referred to him as ‘the father of us all’.

Back in Aix, I see the city’s magnificent golden structures in a new light, learning that they were built over centuries from the quarries of Bibemus.

What I don’t find in his hometown is Cézanne’s original work. True, there are a handful of mushy garnets hanging deep in the Mazarin Quarter, but no one is pretending that these are masterpieces.

This is because Cézanne is barely acknowledged. Ax High Society took a stand against him; The curator of the museum swore that no work of the local madman would hang on his watch. Perhaps this is why the man who lived and breathed Ax is sculpted to shock, as he stands next to the Fontaine de la Rotonde.

Now that he has cemented his place among the all-time greats, however, Aix-en-Provence is what Cézanne lives and breathes.

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