If you ever visited any of the important art museums in Europe, then the name Paul Cézanne will be familiar to you. I remember visiting plenty of these museums with my parents while growing up. As a kid they are not the most interesting places to visit and honestly, as a grown up sometimes they still aren’t. I rather learn about history and nature than art.
When I visited Aix-en-Provence I saw the familiar name and decided to learn a bit more about the painter who was born in this place.
Who was Paul Cezánne?
Paul Cezánne was a French artist and Post-Impressionist painter. This means that he passed from Impressionism (popular in the 19th century) to Cubism in the 20th century.
Born in Aix-en-Provence in 1839 to a wealthy family, he started painting and taking classes at school. He went to law school to please his father and continued taking drawing lessons. After graduation, he moved to Paris in 1861 against his father’s wishes. Eventually his father forgave him and he received an inheritance large enough to never have to worry about money.
Since his early work, he studied the geometrical forms of objects and explored different perceptions of the same phenomena. He was rejected every year from the Paris Salon, until his friend got him to exhibit a portrait of his father. In 1895, he finally got his first individual exhibition. By this time he had gained public recognition and financial success.
Cezánne continued to live between Paris and Provence all of this adult life. He painted mostly portraits, still lifespans and studies of bathers.
Follow Cezánne’s Footsteps
The tourism office of Aix-en-Provence has a map that takes you through a circuit of 32 stops of important places in the life of Paul Cezánne. You can do this circuit on your own following the ‘C’s that are embedded into the pavement or pay €10 to go with a guide for two hours on Thursdays during high season. If you choose to take this guided tour you must reserve in the tourism office or on their website.
Some of the stops are places where Cezánne or his family members used to live. Other places are where he used to study, work, and drink with his friends. There are several churches in the circuit, including the gorgeous Cathedral Saint-Sauveur where he got married, as well as the Hôtel de Ville where they celebrated the wedding. Another stop is the cemetery where he was buried.
I did not take this tour or followed the route, but there is the option if you are a huge fan. Plus Aix-en-Provence is quite lovely, so it is enjoyable to walk and discover it.
Main Cezánne Sites
Jas de Bouffan Mansion
This historical monument, mansion and park was purchased by Cezanne’s father in 1859 and belonged to the family until 1899. Cezánne painted dozens of murals here, including 36 oils and 17 watercolors. Inspiration was obtained from nature, including the avenue of chestnut trees. Unfortunately when I went (August of 2020) this mansion was closed for rehabilitation works and it is not certain when they will reopen.
Terrain Des Peintres
Walking up to Terrain Des Peintres is good exercise. This park is 15 minutes uphill after Cezánne’s workshop. The painter used to walk from his studio to the top of the hill of Lauves. This was my first stop, passing by the Portail Cézanne which was the former entrance to his property, which has now disappeared.
Since I walked from the town center, it took over 30 minutes from my hotel, in a very hot August day. Upon reaching the top I laid in the grass to rest for a while.
There is a mound with replicas of Cezánne’s paintings. Between 1902 and 1906, he painted 17 watercolors and 11 oil paintings from this wonderful view of the Sainte-Victoire mountain.
Going down the mountain you will see a gate with red doors which is Cezánne’s Studio or Atelier. The painter bought this property of 7,000 square meters for only 2000 francs back in 1901! It used to be an old farm full of olive and fig trees with the Verdon canal running along it. Here is where he decided to build his studio, finally moving in September of 1902.
I didn’t really know how small the studio was and that you needed to reserve online or in the tourism office prior to the visit. It is quite small and they only allow 25 people at a time. I went around noon and they only had space on the last time slot at 5 p.m. So I had to return at 4:30 p.m. Opening hours vary according to the season but they go from 9:30 a.m. to 4 or 6 p.m.
Your visit includes a tour of the gardens, but there was not much to see in August. The exterior has tables for people to wait and a café that serves refreshments. By the ticket counter there is a gift shop that can be visited before or after the tour. There is also a video about the life of Paul Cezánne but it was in French, so I didn’t understand much.
Once inside Cezánne’s Studio you will get a document with information about the painter and his work. Usually there is an audio guide option as well, but because of Covid it was not available. Here is where the painter would work every day for the last four years of his life. He did not live here, since his apartment was in Rue Boulegon in the city center. But he got more inspiration in the country.
If the weather was good he would go outside and if the weather was bad, he would stay painting still objects. You can see glasses, plates, ceramics, skulls, fruits, flowers and other things he would use. The window is truly spectacular, providing plenty of light, with trees outside. Cezánne wanted to die painting but he was caught in a storm in October 1906 and died 8 days later of pleurisy.
After his death, Cezánne’s Studio was abandoned until Marcel Provence bought it in 1921. He was a huge fan, so he lived downstairs and left the studio upstairs just as it was. Now it is the property of the Aix tourism office. It does not have any of his paintings. If you want to see them then you must go to the Musée Granet, next to the Cathedral, or to the Hotel Caumont.
Carrières de Bibémus
This is the birthplace of cubism, on a 7 hectares quarry used until the 18th century. Nature had taken over this place by the time Cezánne arrived. The artist used to work from this place and even sleep in a shed where he stored his works. Paintings produced here have the famous red rocks, complementing minerals and nature. Carrières de Bibémus is not in Aix-en-Provence. To visit this place you need to have a car or take a guided tour.