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In the Footsteps of Cézanne, Part III: The Bibémus Quarries

November 27, 2011

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My third and last of the Cézanne tours organized by the Office de Tourisme of Aix-en-Provence involved a visit to the Bibémus quarries (carrières de Bibémus), a site where Cézanne painted frequently from 1895 to 1904. The quarries are located a few miles east of the center of Aix. These quarries had been in operation at least since the days of the Roman empire, and were extensively worked during the 17th and 18th centuries. The reddish-yellow ochre rocks obtained there were used in the construction of buildings and monuments in Aix and elsewhere. But after the 18th century, the quarries fell into disuse because of fissures and sand pockets in the quarries’ rocks, probably resulting from the presence of high levels of salt, which also made sand quarried there useless as a component of concrete. In 1885, the quarries were closed and thereafter were completely abandoned, which allowed Cézanne to work there whenever he wished. In 1954, a portion of the quarry site was purchased by the American artist George Bunker, who upon his death in 1991 left it to the city of Aix-en-Provence, on condition that it not be commercially developed but maintained as a public park in memory of Cézanne. The city opened the quarries to the public, along with the other Cézanne tour sites, during the centennial of Cézanne’s death in 2006.

While painting in the quarries, Cézanne rented a stone cabin (“cabanon”) located there in order to avoid having to travel daily to and from Aix with his paints, brushes and supplies. The cabin is still there today (click on any picture in this posting to see a larger version):

Cézanne’s Cabanon in the Bibémus Quarries

The quarries were an ideal subject for Cézanne’s style of painting, lending themselves naturally to representation as a collection of geometrical shapes of contrasting colors. Here are some examples:

Bibémus Quarry, 1895, oil on canvas

Corner of Quarry, 1900-02, oil on canvas

While there has been extensive growth of vegetation in the quarries in the more than 100 years since Cézanne painted there, much of this unusual landscape is still visible today:

The Bibemus Quarry

The Bibemus Quarry

At several points during the tour, a panel with a reproduction of one of Cézanne’s paintings in the quarries is set up at the exact spot where he painted. Thus one can compare the painting itself, e.g. —

Bibémus: The Red Rock, c. 1897, oil on canvas

with the same view as it currently appears:

The Red Rock

One of Cézanne’s most well-known paintings shows Mont Sainte-Victoire in an apparent view from the Bibémus quarries, with the red and yellow rocks of the quarries seen directly below and in front of the mountain:

Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarries, c. 1897, oil on canvas

Interestingly, this view cannot be found in the quarries. While Mont Sainte-Victoire is in fact visible from certain parts of the quarries, the ochre rocks are nowhere to be seen in those views. For example, I saw this view of the mountain during the tour:

View of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the Bibemus Quarries

According to our tour guide, the view painted by Cézanne never actually existed even in Cézanne’s day, and Cézanne simply created a composite picture showing the mountain together with rocks that were visible only from a different part of the quarry. Of course, as a painter Cézanne could take such liberties. Such a scene might seem difficult for a photographer to emulate. However, with today’s digital photography and such tools as Photoshop, a similar photographic representation can be easily created:

This combination photograph is composed of parts of two of my other photos shown in this posting, i.e. those entitled “The Bibémus Quarry” and “View of Mont Sainte-Victoire from the Bibémus Quarries.” Its remarkable similarity to Cézanne’s 1897 painting suggests the possibility that Cézanne’s painting may in fact be a combined representation of these two views taken from different parts of the quarries.

The three tours “Dans les Pas de Cézanne” organized by the Office de Tourisme of Aix-en-Provence were certainly among the most interesting and informative of the many activities and sights afforded by this remarkable destination. They are an experience not to be missed, especially for lovers of modern art.

For additional 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 photography website, Phil Haber Photography. For additional information about my photography, please see my photography Facebook page.

Phil Haber

Copyright © 2011 Philip A. Haber

One Comment
  1. Nice work! I’m looking forward to the book… there will be a book, won’t there?

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