What a fantastic moment to be inside Paul Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence, France, the place where so many famous paintings were created in the last years of his life.
There on a shelf against the soft gray-green wall (called Cézanne’s green) are all the pitchers, pots, ceramic bowls, bottles and miscellaneous bric-a-brac used in his well-known still-life paintings. In the corner on a peg, his coat, hat and artist’s smock hang just as he left them over 100 years ago. His battered and stained paint box and brushes lie on a table nearby. There are several other tables, cabinets and assorted chairs round about each piled with interesting objects and cloths that might have been used in his paintings.
The sage green walls create a calming effect against the light that enters from the tall windows that take up most of the wall on one side (I assume this would be the north side, as that is the most neutral light). There are trees and bushes in the area beyond the window and that is why Cézanne painted the walls green. They were originally white but the light reflected too much of the green foliage and he did not like the effect. So, he mixed up his own wall paint and created what has become known as “Cézanne’s green” (so we were informed by the tour guide that day).
The floor of the studio is wide-planked hardwood, which replaced the original flooring of red ceramic tiles. These red, octagonal-shaped tiles are very typical of Provence and people still have them in their homes to this day. We were told that Cézanne did not like the red floor because it interfered with his color comparisons; the wooden oak floor was more neutral in color.
The studio is on the second floor of a house he had built as his studio, so when the monumental series of “Bathers” were painted, (the last and largest one unfinished at the time of his death in 1906), they were so large that he could not move them down the winding stairs to the ground floor. Consequently, a very tall narrow opening was cut into the corner of the north wall. He could then take the large works outside to check the colors against the natural daylight and also be able to remove them from the studio once they were complete. Against the west wall leans a very tall wooden ladder which he used when painting this series.
During the time of Cézanne’s life, his studio was out in the countryside, in Les Lauves, which he loved. It is now within the city of Aix-en-Provence in a residential neighborhood. Not far from there, about a 15-minute walk, is a place called The Artist’s Ground (now within the city) which is natural hill slope with trees, bushes and limestone rock. The day we visited his studio we decided to have our picnic lunch there to avoid the crowds and traffic of downtown Aix. What a surprise to turn around as we neared the top of the hill to see the view overlooking the countryside – there was the mountain, Mt. Sainte Victoire that Cézanne painted over and over again, at least 86 times. A fantastic sight! As my husband, Tom, Françoise (my French friend from KU art school days) and I ate our delicious lunch of fresh baguette, cheese, chorizo, tomatoes and apricots, I sketched the mountain. How could I not?
Cézanne’s paintings were among my first artistic inspirations. I first saw his still-life paintings and the Bathers Series at the Courtauld Gallery in London many years ago when I was an aspiring young artist living in England. I have always admired his paintings the most, of all the many artists I have studied. My life-long passion for landscape and still-life painting perhaps began with viewing his work. I feel in some ways I have come full circle to view the studio and landscape in which Cézanne lived and worked.