Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sitting in Cezanne's Studio

I recently had the opportunity of a European vacation, all due to a marriage in Tuscany of a very close friend. Since I studied in Florence during art school and had the chance to visit again in 2007, my husband and I decided after the wedding festivities were over we would visit somewhere outside of Italy. The original plan was to visit Provence for a week, but a variety of things caused us to switch gears, mostly due to having a little less time than previously imagined. 

 Rue Gaston de Sapora - Aix-en-Provence ©2011 Jennie Traill Schaeffer

Instead we spend four days located in Monaco, with one day set aside for a trip to Aix-en-Provence. Though I could have spent a week or more relaxing in Monaco, I'm utterly grateful for our brief introduction to Aix and the chance to visit artist, Paul Cézanne's studio

I've loved the artist's work since seeing a show of his at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I now reference his work over and over again to my students. Considered by most scholars to be the harbinger of modernism, Picasso called Cézanne, “My one and only master. … Cézanne was like the father of us all.” It was Cezanne who started breaking down space and playing with perspective more abstractly. Our docent showed us the ladder that reaches almost to the ceiling in the studio; it was on this that Cezanne would climb to get different vantage points of his still lives in order to paint a variety of views in one piece.

Cezanne's Studio, from Atelier Cezanne
We trekked all over Aix and wound our way to the northern part of the city, where the Atelier Cezanne is located. It's a beautiful building, located up a hill, that once was a solitary structure. Our docent told us the trees were quite short and Cezanne would have had quite a view from which to paint in his backyard. Now, that part of the city is filled in with apartment buildings, homes and the trees have grown in significantly.

Atelier Cezanne, ©2011 Jennie Traill Schaeffer

When Cezanne passed away in 1906, his friend, Emile Bernard, moved into the studio, occupying the first floor and leaving the second floor where Cezanne worked alone. In 1921, Marcel Provence purchased the studio from Paul's son and maintained the space to preserve Cezanne's heritage. In 1954 when developers wanted to raise the building to make way for apartments, 2 American students gathered 150 investors to buy the property from Provence's heirs and pass on the property to the University of Aix-Marseille. In 1969, the city of Aix took on ownership of the studio.

Cezanne's Studio, from Atelier Cezanne

As a painter, I was pretty amazed to not only see his studio intact, but to walk around and identify objects that I've seen in his paintings - in particular a plaster cast of Cupid. Another compelling aspect was a slot that the artist had designed into the wall, about 10' or so tall and about a foot wide, with a door leading out into his back gardens. The docent relayed how Cezanne used the passage way to port his large works in and out of the studio - for ease as well as to paint portions of a painting, such as the many bathers, outside.

In Cezanne's Studio ©2011 Jennie Traill Schaeffer
Cezanne's Cupid ©2011 Jennie Traill Schaeffer
 It was my husband, Lee, who suggested I sketch some of the studio while we were there. (I have the most fabulous husband!) So I spent about 30 minutes sketching the cupid and a still life setup on Cezanne's table. While I was working, one of the docents suggested to Lee that we walk up the Avenue Paul Cezanne another 15 minutes to Mont Sainte-Victoire, the limestone landmark made famous by Cezanne's numerous depictions in watercolor and oil. At the top of the hill, the city of Aix designated a portion of land, terrain des peintres, or painters' ground, where Cezanne often painted the mountain. Of course, we walked up the road to the hallowed ground of Cezanne and I sat down for a quick watercolor study. While I painted, Lee took dozens of photos of Mont Sainte-Victoire and me painting.

Large Bathers 1899-1906 (130 Kb); Oil on canvas, 208 x 249 cm (81 7/8 x 98 in); Philadelphia Museum of Art

Jennie Traill Schaeffer painting Mont Sainte-Victoire, photo ©2011, Lee Goldberg

Jennie Traill Schaeffer painting Mont Sainte-Victoire, photo ©2011, Lee Goldberg

Though our time in Aix was brief, in about eight hours I learned a great deal about Cezanne, soaked in the city, and got an appreciation for Cezanne's landscapes. Aix-en-Provence will be on my top list of places to spend an extended vacation in the future. I think this visit will resonate with me for year's to come.

 Mont Sainte-Victoire ©2011 Jennie Traill Schaeffer


Erin Fickert-Rowland said...

I am one highly jealous reader now, Jennie. What an amazing day to remember the rest of your life! I am so happy you got a chance to sketch and paint, and that the photographer caught a photo so you could share with us. Wonderful!

sketchuniverse said...

Excellent works. Congrats!