This is my workshop, nobody goes in but me. But as you are a friend, we shall go in together. — Paul Cezanne
Paul Cezanne spent most of his life in Aix-en-Provence, and painted much of the area’s landscape and scenery during his lifetime. In 1901, after having to sell the beloved family property at Jas du Bouffan to settle his mother’s estate the year before, he drew up plans for his new atelier, which he built on a hill overlooking the town.
Climbing up that steep hill on rue Paul Cezanne, a street named for the artist and one that leads north out of Aix, the quiet heat of the day leads me to that building where Cezanne had his studio for the last four years of his life. Sitting halfway up the hill to Le Jardin de les Lauves, it is a refuge from the brightness and the heat of the Provençal sun, its yard a graveled garden taken over by the nature that Cezanne so loved, full of shade trees and a few chairs to rest on. Further up on the top of the hill is the small, tiered Le Jardin de les Lauves where he painted in pleine aire, or in le motif as he would maybe say, many of his images of the Saint-Victoire.
Passing through the gate in the wall, there is an immediate sense of relaxation and coolness. There is a sense here that this is a sanctuary, and Cezanne certainly thought of it as one. The bright sunlight is filtered through the leaves on the trees and the color of the house is a soothing shade of ochre. One hundred years ago, the artist was upstairs, working away. Or maybe he was out painting in the landscape, something he was known to do as often as possible, even to his detriment. One hundred years ago if I had been standing in the very same spot, I would have heard him working, I would have smelled the oils and the turps coming from the open windows. Entering the house and walking up the stairs to the second floor I find a room that most artists would consider to be a dream workspace, a place of work that painters are educated to seek out, but few seldom find.
Which is probably why Cezanne designed it and then built it for himself.
The studio at the top of the stairs is large, and the north wall is almost all windows. The south wall has two large windows as well, with the ever present Provençal shutters open to the light. Glorious light floods into the space. The ceiling is at least twenty feet high, and the floors are made of a wonderful wood. It looks to be as much a classroom as a studio. Chairs and easels litter the space, as do les objets that recreate scenes from Cezanne’s still lifes. Plastic or wax fruit replaces the real, but recognizable bowls and pitchers, wine bottles and glasses, little statues that served as models, plates, skulls, brushes, all are scattered, neatly, around the studio. The only thing that is missing in this place is the natural random clutter of a working painting studio and the smell of linseed oil.
Many younger artists came to seek out Cezanne during his years here and in 1904, painter Emile Bernard came to work with him on the hill. There doesn’t seem to be any documentation on how long he stayed, but their written communication lasted until Cezanne died.
Cezanne worked in this studio on what he called his ‘primitive’ art from 1902 until 1906 when he dropped dead of pleurisy after spending a day on Les Lauves working in a storm. During the time Cezanne worked here, he painted many of his famous paintings such as Still Life with Apples and Peaches / Nature Morte avec des pommes et Des pêches, c. 1905, Still Life with Carafe, Sugar Bowl, Bottle, Pomegranates, and Watermelon c. 1900-1906, Still Life with Flower Holder / Nature morte au vase pique-fleurs, c. 1905, all three of The Grandes Bathers c. 1900 – 1905, and many of his landscape paintings of Mont Saint-Victoire.
Gesturing toward a curved stairway, she told me to go up and look around to my heart’s content. I did so, and it was one of the most exalting, deeply moving experiences of my life. The large, high room was in considerable disorder, but it was Cezanne’s disorder, and one felt that he might have stepped outside but a few minutes before to paint a watercolor of his beloved mountain viewed from the nearby hilltop. — James Lord, the man responsible for the preservation of Cezanne’s studio in an article for Art in America, July 2002
ATELIER PAUL CEZANNE
9, avenue Paul Cézanne
13090 AIX EN PROVENCE
T: +33 (0)4 42 21 06 53
From French to English
Aix: Short for Aix-en-Provence, the name of the town where Cezanne lived most of his life. Pronounced like a cross between ‘Ex’ and ‘Axe’.
en-Provence: in the region of Provence. Provence is a region that includes the departments of Alpes de Haute Provence, Bouches du Rhone and the Vaucluse.
Jas du Bouffan: Jas means ‘sheep barn’ in provençal and Jas du Bouffan is the name of the family estate that Cezanne grew up in.
rue Paul Cezanne: rue means street and many streets all over France are named after famous French people, including artists, writers and musicians.
Le Jardin de les Lauves: The Garden at the top of the Hill. Cezanne painted many landscape paintings of Mont Saint-Victoire from this vantage point. There is a nice display of these landscapes in the garden, that you can compare to the real thing. To get there from the studio, just keep walking up the hill to the top.
pleine aire: to paint out of doors in and from nature
le motif: a term used by Cezanne to describe painting from the source, from and in nature.
les objets: objects, as in les objets d’arte / the objects of art