On a very hot day in July, in southern France, I visited Cezanne’s studio with my friend Julia. The studio was purchased by Cezanne in 1901 on a hillside right outside the town of Aix-en-Provence and close to Cezanne’s favorite view of Mont Sainte-Victoire. Having his own studio, made to his specifications, was a long standing dream of Cezanne. Before this studio was built he mainly painted plein air, meaning outside looking at what he was painting. His studio features a huge wall made of windows on the north side, and the walls are painted a blueish gray that he invented. This way the color would absorb the light and not reflect and change the colors of the subject he was painting. He also had a tall and narrow door put into the wall next to the window so he could slide one of his very large paintings that wouldn’t fit in the main door or up the stairs, in and out of the studio. The floor was also wood which was unusual for the time.
The studio had basic living arrangements on the ground floor but he preferred to stay in his apartment in the center of town. Eventually they became filled with paintings being stored.
Julia had knee surgery only a few weeks before our trip so I dropped her off at the main entrance of the studio and went to park the car in town. I then followed the same path Cezanne would have taken up the road to his studio. We got our tickets and made our way up stairs to the air conditioned studio. When we entered we were greeted and asked our language. We were handed information about the studio in English. Since the studio is one big room we walked in a circle then sat down to admire everything and read the informational card.
While we were sitting someone came in and started giving a tour in English. It seemed we were in the right place at the right time to listen and learn about things that weren’t on the card we were reading. We learned about everything from the color painted in the room to a road nearby that had an amazing view of the mountain. I would highly recommend being a part of this tour if you can.
We learned that even though he had been caught in a rainstorm and getting sick Cezanne was in the middle of working on a painting of his gardener and was determined to finish it. This seems to be what led to his death.
After his death his studio was closed for fifteen years. No one entered. The house was bought by Marcel Provence, a Cezanne admirer who lived there for 30 years till his death in 1951. He reported that all the fruit was still there and it seemed like Cezanne had at least one still life setup for painting. After Provences’ death the studio was in jeopardy of being bought by developers. Fortunately writers and art historians, John Rewald and James Lord, formed the Cezanne Memorial Committee. They raised funds to buy the building and give it to the University Aix-Marseille. It then became a museum and is now owned by the city of Aix-en-Provence. It became a historic monument in 1974 and Museum of France status in 2002.
After this tour we spoke with the guide about how to drive to the best view of the mountain. I got the car and after picking up Julia we drove up the hill and found the side road we were told about. We parked the car and took some pictures but since it was still over 90 degrees out, we were anxious to get to Marseille where there was a hotel pool waiting.