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In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part I: The Jas de Bouffan

November 10, 2011

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In October of 2011 I spent several weeks in the beautiful and fascinating city of Aix-en-Provence.  Aix was the birthplace and, for much of his life, the home of Paul Cézanne (1839 – 1906). One of the greatest artists of the 19th century, Cézanne is regarded by many as the father of modern art (Matisse and Picasso are both said to have referred to Cézanne as “the father of us all”). A visit to the Office de Tourisme in Aix quickly makes clear the connections between the artist and the city. The Office provides a three-part tour of sites where Cézanne lived and worked, entitled “Dans les Pas de Cézanne” (“In the Footsteps of Cézanne”). It also prints and distributes a guide map of Aix and the surrounding countryside showing the locations of churches, cafes, houses and other sites connected to the lives of Cézanne and other members of his family. (A collection of photographs I took in and around Aix and in many other towns and villages in Provence can be viewed in the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photo website, Phil Haber Photography.)

One of the Cézanne tours consists of a visit to Cézanne’s family home in the area known as the Jas de Bouffan, located in Cézanne’s day on the western outskirts of Aix and now part of the enlarged city. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cézanne was the scion of a wealthy family. His father was a successful merchant and banker, and despite his great disappointment that his son decided to pursue art instead of finishing his legal studies, he nevertheless supported Cézanne financially.  He purchased the house in the Jas de Bouffan in 1859, when Cézanne was 20 years old. The ground floor included a large drawing room with a curved white wall and a high ceiling. Cézanne began painting in this room in 1860, filling the walls with the products of his first efforts as an artist. After Cézanne’s death, the paintings were removed from the walls and transferred to canvases, but the tour of the house includes a video presentation that projects images of these paintings onto their original locations.

At the urging of his friend and former schoolmate Émile Zola, Cézanne relocated to Paris in 1861, where he later came under the tutelage of the Impressionist master Camille Pissarro. Beginning in 1870, Cézanne moved frequently between Paris and Provence, including both Aix and L’Estaque, a fishing village located on the Mediterranean coast near Marseille. However, in the early 1880’s, Cézanne’s father had a studio built for him on an upper floor of the Jas de Bouffan. After that, Cézanne spent more of his time in Provence, at the Jas de Bouffan or at L’Estaque or other sites near Aix. Cézanne’s father died in 1886, leaving Cézanne with a substantial fortune including the estate in the Jas de Bouffan. Cézanne lived and worked there at various times from then until 1899, when the house was sold following the death of Cézanne’s mother two years earlier. Much later, the house and a portion of the grounds were sold to the city of Aix. The house has been open to the public since 2006 for visits in connection with the tours organized by the Office de Tourisme.

The house in the Jas de Bouffan sits on a substantial property that includes a large walled basin or pond. Cézanne completed many paintings of the house and grounds during his lifetime. This photo, which I took during the tour, shows the house as it appears today, taken from the gardens to the rear (you may click on any image in this post to see a larger version):

House in the Jas de Bouffan

This photo may currently be seen at the recently opened Centre d’Art at the Hôtel de Caumont, in Aix-en-Provence, as part of an exhibition on the life of Cézanne.

Here are two of Cézanne’s paintings of the house, also viewed from the the rear:

La Maison du Jas de Bouffan, 1876-78, oil on canvas

House with Red Roof (Jas de Bouffan), 1887-90, oil on canvas

The first of these two paintings is a particularly good example of the distortion of perspective characteristic of much of Cézanne’s work. Although the point of view of the house in the painting seems to be about the same as the point of view in my photo, in the painting you can see a large part of the roof, as though the artist were looking down from a point well above the ground.

The pond is situated to the rear of the house and is surrounded by small fountains in the form of carved stone lions and dolphins. This is how the pond appears to the visitor today:

The Pond at the Jas de Bouffan

This is one of Cézanne’s paintings of the pond:

Pool of the Jas de Bouffan, 1885-87, oil on canvas

It became clear during our tour of the grounds that there had been many changes during the more than 100 years since Cézanne lived at the Jas de Bouffan. For example, as our tour guide explained, many of the chestnut trees that dominated the property during Cézanne’s life had died as a result of the construction of a highway south of the property, which had cut off much of the natural flow of water to the property. Some of these trees had been replaced with plane trees, which are better adapted to dry conditions. There had also been much growth of natural vegetation in other parts of the property. As a result of these changes, some of the views from the property which appear in Cézanne’s paintings can no longer be seen. In particular, there is no longer a view of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the grounds of the Jas de Bouffan, which can be seen in this painting by Cézanne from the mid-1880’s:

Chestnut Trees at the Jas de Bouffan, 1885-87, oil on canvas

The Mont Sainte-Victoire is a massive limestone mountain ridge lying just a few miles east of Aix-en-Provence, and was one of Cézanne’s favorite subjects. In fact, he created no less than 87 paintings of the mountain during his lifetime from a number of different of locations, including 44 oils and 43 watercolors. While I was disappointed not to have a view of the mountain from the Jas de Bouffan, I had a great number of opportunities to photograph it during my subsequent visits to sites in and around Aix.

The second and third parts of the Cézanne tour included visits to Cézanne’s last studio at Les Lauves, just north of Aix, and to the Bibemus Quarries, east of Aix. Other posts in this blog describe these visits as well as my excursions to other sites in the vicinity of Aix from which Cézanne created his paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire. See In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part II and In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part III”.

For other photos of Aix-en-Provence and other beautiful and interesting cities and villages in Provence and the Côte d’Azur, please visit the gallery Provence-Côte d’Azur on my photo website, Phil Haber Photography.  For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

  1. Lis permalink

    Hi Phil – I was just looking up something like ‘in Cezanne’s footsteps’ and I came across your wonderful photos and stories to go with them….I shall look forward to hearing more about your visit to one of my absolute favourite cities in the world….la belle Aix….is it your first time in Provence and in Aix?

    If you need any hinters, re Provence let me know, I might just be able to help….

    All the best and keep the good work up…. Lis 🙂

    • Hi Lis – I have recently published two more installments of “In the Footsteps of Cezanne,” which you might be interested in reading.

  2. Lis – Thanks very much for your comments. This was not actually my first time in Provence. However, it was the first time that I was able to spend so much time there. My wife and I spent 3 weeks in an apartment we rented on the Av. Napoleon Bonaparte in Aix, which allowed us to really get to know the town well and to appreciate all that it has to offer. We also rented a car and were able to visit and photograph a lot of other towns and villages in Provence. I am working on additional blogs on Cezanne and also planning to do some on the Van Gogh “trails” in Saint Remy and Arles. Phil Haber

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