On the outskirts of Aix-en-Provence, just a 20-minute walk from the Cours Mirabeau, sits the Atelier de Cézanne: the house, studio and now museum of the 19th century Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. A tall wooden gate on the left-hand side of the road obscures the house from view, and a modest brass plaque, weathered to a dull brown, is the only indicator that one of the great artists of the modern age once lived here. Those who brave the steep incline leaving town, however, are rewarded with a scene of complete tranquility.
A step inside reveals a setting unchanged for 120 years. A garden courtyard with iron furniture laid out as if expecting the original occupier to return any minute from a ramble in the hills, perhaps with an easel folded under one arm. The house itself is much the same as any other suburban townhouse in Provence, with the panelled shutters painted what was probably a bright red to match the front gate, though now they have faded to more subdued hue. In keeping with the rustic feel of the house the garden is wild, erring on the side of unkempt, with tall grasses and gnarled fig trees arching across secret corners. There are no flower beds here, and rightly so; Cézanne was an artist in love with the dry, rugged landscape of Provence.
The interior of the house comes as a surprise considering its appearance outside. Cézanne had the atelier purposefully built in 1901 to meet the needs of an artist, with a central staircase leading to an enormous studio, and an entire section of the wall made up of windows to let in as much light as possible. It was this studio which allowed Cézanne to paint his largest works in his final years, of which perhaps the best known is The Bathers, painted on an 8 foot high canvas. In the corner is a special slot which was used to transport these paintings outside, as they were too large to be carried downstairs and out the door.
Visitors to the atelier today will notice how faithfully the studio has been kept to its condition in 1906. There is a table on which objects easily recognisable from Cézanne’s still-lifes are scattered, and the museum curators will confirm that these are the very same painted by the artist. There is a relaxed atmosphere to the house that makes you forget that it is now a museum. There is no café or intrusive gift shop, but you are welcome to bring a picnic and find a quiet corner of the garden to sit down, before starting downhill back towards the bustling city.
Our Provence tour with France Today Travels takes you into the bustling heart of Aix-en-Provence’s market to pick up fresh produce to cook with our friend, a professional chef, in her townhouse. On an early evening break from the group, we recommend you enjoy a peaceful stroll up to the Atelier de Cézanne. For more information of our Tours visit the France Today Travels website.
For practical information about the Atelier de Cézanne, including prices and opening hours, visit the Aix Office de Tourisme website here.
By Theo Gittens
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