After finishing my painting of the convent steeple early this morning here in our atelier at La Méjanes, I got ready to try out my plein air setup on site at le Jardin des Pientres. I broke down my easel and ThumbBox, loaded up my backpack, and hit the long road up the hill to Cézanne’s favorite spot to paint Mont Sainte-Victoire. Perhaps I should have named this blog “Channeling Cézanne – Mon Dieu!” instead. After a 4 kilometre hike – laden with my backpack full of painting supplies, a liter of water, and my easel – straight uphill from our flat at La Méjanes to the upper tier of the Jardin des Peintres, I have a new-found respect for Cézanne, who made this trek twice a day for several years to paint amid gorgeous surroundings with a great view of the mountain. He was definitely a tough old bird and in much better shape than me! Now that I have caught my breath, using the convenient excuse of starting today’s blog entry while I sat on the stone wall at the top of the Jardin, it is time to set up my easel and get on with the development of my plein air painting of Mont Sainte-Victoire.
After dashing in a quick blue Provençal sky, I sketched the mountain with a liner brush, then blocked it in with a palette knife in ecru, raw sienna, and dark green. I used the impasto technique that I admired yesterday at the Hans Berger exhibition to develop the mountain. Now I’m letting that layer dry a bit before applying a lavender wash to set the mountain back into the piece. This technique somewhat follows Cézanne’s use of the chromatic perspective (aka atmospheric perspective), so I spent the drying time admiring the view from a shady spot on the back wall again,watching the visitors to the Jardin, and planning the foreground components. I think a pastoral scene is just the ticket, using the valley across the way as inspiration. A bunch of German tourists came up the steps taking pictures and talking loudly while I was sketching the mountain in with my liner brush and some of them watched me start blocking in the mountain. They must have been part of a yellow-flower tour group because they all left in a hurry and en masse.
It’s nice and quiet now with birds chirping and flowers blooming. Once again, I can appreciate Cézanne’s love for this place and the inspiration he drew from it for some 87 paintings that included Mont Sainte-Victoire. Since Cézanne was somewhat anti-social, he must have relished the solitude and peace he found here at the end of the 19th century before the daily spate of tourists (like us and the yellow-flower groups), who venture up the hill to enjoy the views. Early morning in the middle of the week is a good time to be here to paint, although I think the lighting is much better in the afternoon as the features of the mountain are better revealed under a western light.
I finished my study of the mountain around 15:00, packed up, and headed down the hill to meet Miss Cyd for dinner. It’s hard to believe our time here in Aix-en-Provence is already winding down. Although I didn’t paint too much here, I was able to complete a couple of paintings and some sketches, while Miss Cyd completed several watercolors and sketches. We met many fine people here, including our landlord Jean-Philippe, the ladies at the Office of Tourism, our friend Michel at the hardware store next door who always makes us a fresh cup of café when we stop by. We have quite the library of landscape and street scene photographs for future studio paintings, so I would have to call our stay in Aix a great success. We certainly enjoyed all of the places we have visited. The next time we come, we will stay longer and paint more. As this picture shows, we love Aix and must come back soon!
Joe and Cyd.
[Note: This blog may well be the plein air model for the Paris segment of our trip during Les Ponts painting sessions. In this blog, I painted a layer, sat down and enjoyed a break updating the blog, while the layer dried, then moved forward with the painting. Although Miss Cyd said this blog reads like a play-by-play of the painting, this process seemed to work out quite well, particularly while I was waiting for the mountain to dry so I could set it in the background with a lavender wash before developing the pastoral foreground ;-)]
BTW: Some may well ask, “What exactly is a yellow-flower tour group?” When Miss Cyd and I were in Lyon in 2010, we were dining at Le Petit Gluton in Vieux Lyon. We heard a great clatter coming down the street. It was a large tour group led by a strident lady holding up a yellow plastic flower. There were at least 50 people hanging onto every word she said as they stopped at points of interest along the street. About 30 minutes later, she came back up the street alone holding her flower under her arm. Her group was trailing behind her in various sized clumps looking lost without their guide. Since then, whenever we run across a tour group, we look to see the yellow flower du jour. It’s always something and the groups are large and loud.