Webster defines terroir as “the combination of factors including soil, climate, and sunlight that gives wine grapes their distinctive character” (Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terroir). We have spent the last two days (April 3-4, 2015) walking about Aix-en-Provence following the footsteps of Cézanne. We have visited several of the places where Cézanne gained his inspiration from the Provençal soil, climate, and sunlight for many of his paintings. It is easy to imagine him strolling about with his easel capturing the area indelibly in oils and watercolors, particularly here at his family estate at Jas de Bouffan, where he painted for 40 years.
We took a bus trip out to Les Carrières de Bìbémus on Friday and enjoyed the walking tour around the park. This is the place where Cézanne began painting rocks and other features around the quarries in the style that later led him to be called the Father of Cubism, although Cézanne never thought of his work in that manner. There is also some argument that the title should belong to Georges Braque and/or Picasso. However, Picasso, himself, acknowledged Cézanne as a major influence, so let’s argue no more on that account. It is also possible to see Mont Sainte-Victoire from many locations along the eastern edge of the Bìbémus plateau. Cézanne’s hut (below right) was especially impressive to me, as was the quarry foreman’s house (below left), where a Canadian sculpture named David Campbell lives and works in the summers. After seeing Cézanne’s small stone house and his estate at Jas de Bouffan, I can see why it was called a hut, but it would make a nice little country studio retreat for us. I started working on a sketch and hope to finish it today. The tour guide, who never told us her name, was somewhat of a martinet, although she was very knowledgeable about the quarries and their histories from the early Roman days through the present, including, of course, the connection with Cézanne and his work. She kept looking at her watch and encouraging us to “move along, move along, lots to see, the shuttle bus is waiting” in the very best of yellow-flower tour guide style, so we had to content ourselves with snapping as many photos as we could as we followed her diligently along the trails and making brief stops at the various viewpoints. I could have spent all day wandering around sketching and painting, but that was not to be, especially since the gates are firmly locked on entry and exit and can only be opened by the tour guide. I guess you could bushwhack a couple of kilometers up the mountain from the parking lot and scale the fence, but that seems like more effort than it is worth and I have no desire to spend any time in a French gaol for trespassing. However, the photo of Cézanne’s hut is the basis of my upcoming painting of Bìbémus, as soon as I complete the sketch to define the layout.
We walked to Jas de Bouffan on the western side of Aix-en-Provence yesterday (Saturday). This house and its grounds were Cézanne’s family home for 40 years and now belong to the City of Aix-en-Provence. We enjoyed a good video of Cézanne’s paintings relative to the family estate and took the tour of the grounds, where our tour guide, Gabriel, shared much of his knowledge of Cézanne and his personal perspective as an artist with us. He was much more personable and friendlier than our nameless guide at the quarries, but then, the Jas de Bouffan is in town and not on top of a rugged mountain plateau, so there is that to consider. [I’m sure our guide at the quarries felt some pressure to keep Les Crazy Americains together and keep them (mostly Miss Cyd and I, as the rest of the group were pretty good at sticking close to the guide 😉 ) from wandering off and falling in a quarry.] Unfortunately, the maison itself is currently awaiting funding (estimated at € 10MM) for a major renovation, so we were not able to tour the house, except for the entrance hallway and one room on the ground floor, where we saw the video. Nevertheless, the grounds were lovely, Gabriel knew his stuff and discussed how the estate fit into the chronology of Cézanne’s work, and we took many great photos, including the pool (le bassin) where Cézanne painted several works featuring the pool.
Aix-en-Provence and its surrounding environs truly is the artistic terroir of Cézanne. We are soaking it all in and hopefully this experience will flow back out in the form of creative work from both Miss Cyd and myself. Tomorrow, we plan to walk up the hill to visit the Atelier de Cézanne and further on up another couple of kilometers to the best place in Provence to view Mont Saint-Victoire, the Terrain des Pientres. Since this is a walking expedition and the tour is only timed at the atelier, we will have the luxury to sketch as we choose.
Almost everything is closed on Sundays here in Aix-en-Provence, so today is a great day to have a much-needed studio day. Cyd went to Easter Sunday mass at the Cathedral Saint-Sauveur this morning, while I finished my hut sketch. It might have been a bit better if I could have done it en plein air at the quarries, but haste makes waste, so I salvaged as much of it as I could. No matter, this effort is just a simple sketch, but it gives me an idea of where I want to go with the painting, which is next up on my painting to-do list.
I started blocking in the steeple of the Couvent des Augustins last night and hope to finish it today, then start working on my painting of Cézanne’s hut. If you click on the link to the convent map page above and follow the curving road (rue Bedarride) just to the right of the steeple from rue Espariat to the northwest all the way around to the top of the picture around 1:30, that is where our flat is located at 6, rue-des Chaudinières, which is now become our atelier at La Méjanes for the next week. I can already feel my right arm beginning to vibrate and, thus, I know it is time to stop writing the blog, pick up my brush, and attack the canvas to finish the steeple. Let the painting endeavors commence!
Joyeuses Pâques à tous dans le terroir de Cézanne,
Joe and Cyd