When the high-speed train pulls into the station at Aix-en-Provence, a familiar face suddenly looms into view. Mount Saint-Victoire, ever-present in so many of Cezanne’s landscapes is now part of your own space and air, even as it shimmers in the haze on the horizon.
Paul Cezanne would really be getting up there, this, the 175th anniversary of his birth.
With only a half a day to spend in Aix not-so-recently, left us with too little time to include all that we wished to see and could only pick one thing to visit. We chose Cezanne’s last studio, where one can walk through his gardens, visit his working studio, see the dust collect on the objects so familiar from his still life paintings and engage in his world, however briefly.
This studio came to Cezanne late in life, the result of an inheritance. From here he focused on the Provence scenery, with Mount Saint-Victoire present in 44 oil paintings and 43 water colors, a veritable muse from nature.
As Cezanne aged, his tendency to become more isolated in his work increased. His desire to die with his boots on became clear. He slogged away painting in nature in storms and other difficult conditions until a collapse on site when a final bout with pleurisy brought about his demise at age 67.
His desire was to be true to his experience, as Cezanne said:
Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing sensations.
The studio, known as “Les Lauves,” only came into his life three years before his death. It was a purpose-specific building, with his high-ceilinged studio on the second floor, now still full of the props that became a part of his canvases. One of the things that most struck me was a tall and narrow slit window that was custom-made to pass through his large canvases of bathers, painted without the benefit of models, that he would have lowered into the gardens to work on and then passed back though the slit into his studio again.
The only tie-in I can find to life in Israel is the recent celebration of Tu B’Shvat, when we acknowledge our connection with nature. Somehow Cezanne’s birthday and that recent holiday make a nice fit. Or an excuse to honor the memory of a painter dedicated to experience nature and convey it to the rest of us.
Ok, an excuse. I’ll use it. Happy Birthday Paul Cezanne.