Monday, July 21, 2014

Atelier Cézanne, Aix-en-Provence

Recently I was going through a load of my old notes from college, trying to decide what was important enough to keep and what I needed to part with. Looking at everything kind of made me sad, simply because the pile of notes, essays, exam scripts in front of me was a huge part of my life for four years. I read through some old essays, and I was so proud of myself. I wonder if I could still write as impressively now? I miss college, and although I'm always learning and reading and hopefully broadening my mind all the time, I miss learning in that environment. I miss deadlines and lectures and having an amazing library at my disposal. I absolutely love what I studied for four years. I cried a tiny bit when I sat back down after receiving my degree at graduation. I'm not even joking. Since I have no actual essays to write at the moment, I'm going to use our blog to get this out of my system. 

So, while I was rummaging through this mountain of intellectual memorabilia, I found all of my Art History notes from first year. I loved Art History and I wish I could have kept it up for my entire degree. I would have happily done an extra 30 credits for four years in order to keep up this subject. Luckily, I managed to enroll in a few Art History modules during my year in France, when we basically had our pick from the book of modules. 

Anyway, I learned a lot about Paul Cézanne in Art History in first year, and I remember that I thought his paintings were beautiful. At that time we had been doing so much Renaissance work that his colours were so refreshing! It turned out that I got placed in Aix-en-Provence for my Erasmus year, hometown of Cézanne. Like, I've been in his house. If this was 1852 I have no doubt that we would have been best friends.  
Nice beard, Paul
Cézanne was born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839. His paintings have hugely, hugely influenced 20th century art. His influence on the development of cubism in particular, was enormous. What is interesting about Cézanne's work is that it was very modern, it broke conventions and traditions, all while remaining faithful to traditional subject matter; still lives, landscapes, nude figures etc. His innovation and modernity lies with the formal qualities of his painting; the arrangement of colours, the interaction of forms, contrast, for example, which is cool. 

Cézanne's paintings were huge, so big that he had a special door built in his studio to allow for the movement of his giant canvases. I was so excited to see his studio in real life and I feel like I learned more about Cézanne from the guided tour of his painting space than I could from a hundred books about him. Unfortunately, and understandably, photographs were not allowed in the studio, but I remember that the room itself was very simple. It took up the entire upstairs of the building, so it had a very high ceiling, and the walls were painted a very neutral grey. There was a really tall easel, and a large window facing the back garden. I saw his makeshift canvas door, the famous objects that reoccur again and again in his still lives (the skulls and the cupid are what I remember most), some of his letters, his journal, his sketches and of course, some of his smaller paintings (obviously his most famous are on loan to art galleries and museums all over the world). I was able to see Mount Saint Victoire from the very window he viewed it each morning. It was a lovely experience. 

The grounds of the house are beautiful and well worth a stroll around.

If you look closely, on the left hand side of the big window you can see a blueish rectangle. That's the big door for the canvases. 

Mount St Victoire, the subject of hundreds of Cézannes paintings
Towards the end of my year in Aix, I finally managed to climb Mount Saint Victoire after months and months of putting it off. I don't really like climbing mountains to be perfectly honest, but I had a lovely day. We stopped half way up for lunch in the old monastery and took our time, which was nice. I remember thinking that Cézanne had probably walked those pathways many, many times. I got so sunburned that day, that we had to soak a bath towel in freezing water and wrap me in it that evening!

To get to Atelier Cézanne, I took the number 5 bus from The Rotonde, in the centre of Aix-en-Provence and got off at the stop "Cézanne", on the off chance that somebody in Aix or going to Aix reads this. I would definitely recommend a visit if you are at all interested in painting or art. 

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"We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far."
Swami Vivekananda


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