January 8, 2004
I don't generally get enthused about visiting houses where famous people once lived or cafés where they once dined. The people aren’t there any more – what's the point? But if, as I did, you pass up the walking tour of Cezanne landmarks, I'd still encourage you not to pass up Cezanne's former studio. It's more than a pilgrimage for the faithful. It's a glimpse into the creative world of a painter.
Cezanne, for those unfamiliar with him, painted after the gauzy Impressionists. His work is stronger and more colorful, similar to Van Gogh's but with lighter lines. The blocky use of color in his later work prefigures Cubism, soon to follow. He is best known for his still lifes. A slow though diligent worker, it was probably easiest for him to paint assortments of objects which wouldn't move during the weeks he would need to render them on canvas. In fact, he used wax fruits and tissue flowers since the real items would spoil.
The studio occupies the second floor of a small building in a woodsy setting. The square, high-ceilinged, wood-floored room features an enormous multi-paned window facing north. Through its panes, puddled with age, light passes through the blurred, bright leaves of an airy tree. The center of the room is mostly empty. The east wall of the room features a shelf at about shoulder height on which are displayed the many objects Cezanne used as subjects for his still lifes: ceramic pitchers, plates and vases, metal jugs, wine bottles and glasses. Underneath are an assortment of chairs, tables, and bureaus likewise used as models. On a wooden table recognizable to those familiar with his paintings, an arrangement is set up as if ready for the artist: a casually dropped white kitchen towel with a red stripe, a bowl of wax fruit, a wine bottle. Also in the room are the artist’s easel and his palette still daubed with paint, and his beret hangs on the wall.
My grandfather was a painter, and I remember as a child visiting his studio, which had this same austere, empty, airy feel. In this somewhat rarefied atmosphere, even casual objects take on an intensity difficult to imagine if you have not experienced it firsthand. This same intensity lingers in Cezanne’s studio. The paint and chalk smells are gone, but then an artist has not worked here in nearly a century. If you are fortunate, you will find yourself alone in the studio for at least a few moments, allowing you to conjure up the quiet in which the artist would have worked.
The reasonably priced gift shop on the first floor sells prints of some of Cezanne's work, along with mailing tubes for packing them home with you. You can also buy Cezanne bookmarks and other small souvenirs related to the artist.
The studio is a 10-minute walk uphill from the old quarter, also served by bus.
From journal Aixploring Aixquisite Aix-en-Provence