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In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part II: The Studio at Les Lauves and Mont Sainte-Victoire

November 20, 2011

(Cliquez ici pour lire une traduction de cet article en français:

After the Cézanne family estate at the Jas de Bouffan was sold in 1899, Cézanne needed a new studio in which to work and to store his unfinished canvases, paints and other working materials. In 1901, he bought a plot of land in an area known as Les Lauves, which in Cézanne’s day was open countryside to the north of Aix-en-Provence, and is now a built-up suburb. This was Cézanne’s last studio, and he designed it with great care. It includes a ground floor with living accommodations, and a first floor studio with a very high ceiling, the necessary large window facing north for good lighting, and windows facing south toward the town. The studio is located on a road that at the time was called the Chemin des Lauves and is now named Avenue Paul Cézanne (although it is still called Chemin des Lauves beginning at a point further north). Cézanne worked in this studio from 1902 until his death in 1906, and here painted his final masterpieces, including the large bathers series, numerous still lifes, and many paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire (although the latter were often painted on location). While today there are no paintings remaining in the studio, there are many recognizable articles from Cézanne’s last years, including a huge easel, a ladder, brushes and palettes, and various objects that appear in his still lifes, such as a table, numerous pots, jugs and bowls, three skulls and a plaster cast of a cupid. Photographs inside the studio were unfortunately not permitted to be taken.

At the time that the studio at Les Lauves was built, Mont Sainte-Victoire was visible from there. Today, construction and the growth of trees and other vegetation in the surrounding area have blocked the view of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the studio. However, in any event Cézanne preferred the much better view that was available on higher ground about a half mile further north. That location still exists today — a small public park named “Terrain des Peintres” has been set aside by the town of Aix-en-Provence at the location where Cézanne created his last paintings of the mountain, a few dozen steps above the road. An open space is provided, surrounded by ten panels containing reproductions of paintings of the mountain by Cézanne from that site. The view to the east from there is nothing less than spectacular (click on any picture in this post for a larger view):

Mont Sainte-Victoire from Les Lauves

The photo above shows the view of the mountain that appears in Cézanne’s many paintings of it from this location, such as these:

Mont Sainte-Victoire, 1902-04, oil on canvas

Mont Sainte-Victoire vu des Lauves, 1904-06, oil on canvas

These “Post-Impressionist” paintings exhibit the characteristics of Cézanne’s mature work that so inspired the Cubists, Fauvists and other modern artists: objects, including the mountain, trees, buildings and even the sky and clouds are represented by geometric shapes arranged in patterns of color gradations. The illusion of depth is created by careful use of lines and contrasting patches of color. Note also that, particularly in the case of the first of the above paintings, the vertical perspective is not natural but has been altered to emphasize the shapes and characteristics of the mountain and the intervening space. Such alterations of perspective were characteristic of Cézanne’s still lifes, as well as his landscapes – see the introductory commentary in Cézanne, by the great art historian Meyer Schapiro (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1952).

As mentioned in a previous posting in this series, during his lifetime Cézanne painted the Mont Sainte-Victoire no less than 87 times. While Cézanne favored the site at Les Lauves during the last years of his life, he had earlier painted the mountain from a considerable variety of other locations. Another of his favorite viewpoints was from the vicinity of Le Tholonet, a small village lying about four miles east of Aix-en-Provence, along a road known in Cézanne’s day as the Route du Tholonet and now called the Route de Cézanne. In this area, there are wonderful views of the mountain from the southwest, as opposed to the view from straight west seen at Les Lauves. This is one of Cézanne’s paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire from a viewpoint near the Route du Tholonet:

Mont Sainte-Victoire Above the Route du Tholonet, c. 1900, oil on canvas

In search of a similar viewpoint, I drove east along the road from Aix, and a little past Le Tholonet came upon a park on the north side of the road with a hiking trail up a steep hillside, from which there was an excellent view of the mountain:

Mont Sainte-Victoire from near Le Tholonet

While Cézanne’s work was apparently not well received by the citizens of his home town during his lifetime – see the article Paul Cézanne in Wikipedia – today it is difficult to go anywhere in or around Aix without seeing references to him in the form of statues, plaques, street names and other memorials, e.g.:

Statue of Cézanne at La Rotonde, Aix-en-Provence

Indeed, Cézanne’s presence seems to dominate the city from the Office de Tourisme at its center to its outermost parts, and yet is only one facet of a town that has an enormous quantity of wondrous things to offer the visitor. 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.

In my next post, I will describe my tour of the Bibémus Quarries, east of Aix-en-Provence, another site dear to Cézanne where he found ideal subjects for his remarkable style of painting.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

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  1. All about Aix – Madamoisella

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