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In the footsteps of the post-Impressionists in Provence

Beautiful Provencal style house where artist Paul Cezanne once lived in Aix-en-Provence, trees shade the garden

In the 1870’s the Impressionists and post-impressionists were centralized in the Parisian capital. Here they would discuss art and their next exhibitions in the cafés and nightclubs of Montmartre. However, towards the end of the 19th century, many became fed up with the capital and scattered to go their separate ways.

A fascination with light and bright colour led many of them south, away from the greyness of Paris and towards the seaside villages of Cote d’Azur and rustic Provence. Two post-impressionist painters in particular, Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh left significant artistic legacies in Provence.

Paul Cezanne – Aix-en-Provence

Painting of the Mountain of Sainte Victoire, Provence by Paul Cezanne lots of orange and green pigment

The most famous “son” of Aix-en-Provence is the post-impressionist painter Paul Cezanne. Except for a short period in the French capital, Cezanne was born and spent most of his life in Aix-en-Provence.

Today Cezanne is a celebrated household name of the entire town and region, however in his life time, he was virtually unknown. When visiting this picturesque town, follow in Cezanne’s footsteps by exploring the streets, places, and landscapes that inspired him.

Cezanne’s Studio (Atelier De Cezanne)

Artist Paul Cezanne's studio in Aix en Provence, looking just as if he still paints there.

Cezanne’s studio in Aix where he painted during the remaining four years of his life, is open to the public. The studio is not large but is full of objects that he used in many of his famous still life paintings. Also, displayed are letters that Cezanne wrote to his friends and fellow painters, Monet and Manet. You can’t help but feel as if Cezanne just popped out to paint his beloved mountain, Sainte Victoire and will be back shortly to finish another painting. The audio guide is well worth the few euros it cost to hire.

Cezanne’s Family Home – Bastide du Jas de Bouffan

When Cézanne was 20 years old, his father, the wealthy banker, bought the Jas de Bouffan Estate (top photo).

TIP: To visit this house, you need to book a guided tour in advance at the Tourist Information Office. The guide takes you into what was once the family home of Paul Cézanne. You will see one of the main rooms which was once Paul Cézanne’s studio and explore the beautiful gardens where Cezanne often set up his easel, canvas and paints here to paint the view of Sainte-Victoire mountain in the distance..

The main avenue of Aix-en-Provence, Cours Mirabeau, lined with plane trees and colourful shops and restaurants

Musée Granet

Musée Granet is a lovely museum with an impressive collection of art from the 14th to the 20th century. In particular, the museum has a fantastic collection of the impressionists and post-impressionists. The collection includes paintings, drawings and sculptures of the famous 19th century artists such as Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Degas and Cezanne. Also displayed are collections from the major 20th century artists including Bonnard, Picasso, Braque, Dufy and Klee.

The Bibemus Quarries

Just a few kilometres outside of Aix are the stunning Bibemus quarries. Made up of exquisite orange ochre rock formations, Paul Cezanne painted them on many canvases. It is a beautiful place to visit even if you are not a fan of Cezanne. Take note that the trail is a little rough and only suitable if you have no mobility issues. The quarry can only be visited with a guide, but it is worth doing as you’ll discover the exact locations of Cezanne’s most famous paintings.

Vincent Van Gogh in Arles

Painting by Van Gogh of the garden at the hospital of Arles, Provence

Van Gogh arrived in Arles on 20 February 1888. After spending two hectic years in Paris, he longed for somewhere quieter and sunnier. When he arrived in the small provincial town of Arles, Van Gogh took a room at the hotel-restaurant Carrel, and later, at Café de la Gare at 30 Place Lamartine at a rate of one franc per night.

This is how Van Gogh described this accommodation to his brother Theo in a letter: “Today I am probably going to begin on the interior of the cafe where I have a room, by gas light, in the evening. It is what they call here a café de nuit (they are fairly frequent here), staying open all night. Night prowlers can take refuge there when they have no money to pay for a lodging, or are too drunk to be taken in.”

In early September, he rented four rooms in the Yellow House at 2 Place Lamartine, Arles. Paul Gaugin moved in as Van Gogh’s guest for nine weeks. Unfortunately it is no longer there after being bombed during WWII. Today a newsstand and boulangerie stand in its place.

The Arles hospital

When Van Gogh became unwell with psychotic episodes, he admitted himself into the local Arles hospital after cutting off his left earlobe, now named L’Espace van Gogh. It was originally built in the 16th century as the main hospital in Arles and continued to function as a hospital until well into the 20th century.

The courtyard’s garden is landscaped to resemble the Van Gogh’s famous painting “Le Jardin de l’Hôtel de Dieu”.  The complex houses the town library as well as exhibition spaces, a series of souvenir shops and a cafe. The hospital has become a pilgrimage site for Van Gogh fans. It’s address: Pl. Dr. Félix Rey, Arles and entrance is free.

Jeannette Gory is a blogger with a passion for impressionist art and history – find out more at: www.itravelwithart.com

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