Pavement stud on the Paul Cezanne walk in Aix en ProvenceIn a couple of hours you can connect with Paul Cézanne's spirit on a leisurely self-guided walk through the heart of Aix past many of his haunts.

booking.com logoClick here to book a hotel in Aix en Provence

CEZANNE AND AIX

Cézanne is deeply identified with one city to a degree that's rare with an artist. He was born in Aix en Provence, died there and, apart from some two decades working in Paris and elsewhere in France, spent his whole life in and around the city. In fact it's less than a ten minute walk from his birthplace to his grave.

"When I was in Aix, I thought I would be better off elsewhere," Cézanne wrote famously in a letter in 1896. Now that I'm here, I regret Aix... When one is born there, that's it, nothing else appeals."

It's usually translated thus, though in French, Cézanne used a stronger and rather more ambiguous phrase - "c'est foutu" - meaning roughly, "You're done for".

His relationship with Aix was complex. Like many artists, the painter went long unrecognised in his home town. Most notoriously, in 1896 Auguste-Henri Pontier, the director of the Musée Granet, the city's main art gallery, spurned Cézanne's offer of a hundred of his canvases.

Pontier (a minor sculptor whose own efforts have long since passed into oblivion) swore that never in his lifetime would one of Cézanne's works be shown in the Musée Granet. As a result, only a handful of very minor pieces can now be seen there.

Paul Cezanne, Self-Portrait with Bowler HatSince then, though, Aix has been busily making up for lost time. In 2006 there was a major push to mark the centennial of Cézanne's death.

Today it is deeply impregnated with the memory of what the city now regards as its very greatest grand Aixois.

The three main Cézanne sights in Aix - the Jas de Bouffan, the Bibémus Quarries and the studio at Les Lauves - are all slightly out of the city centre and the first two have only relatively recently been open to the public.

They are still being worked on as tourist destinations and have the - exhilarating and inspiring - atmosphere of works in progress.

But, if time presses, you can just do this walk. And, as you wander round the town where Cézanne lived, loved, drank, painted and died, you'll find the artist an illuminating, intimate guide to the mysteries of Aix and its landscapes.

 

THE SELF-GUIDED CEZANNE WALK THROUGH AIX EN PROVENCE

Called In the Steps of Cézanne, this walk is devised by the Aix en Provence Tourist Office (Office de Tourisme) at Les Allées provençales, 300 avenue Giuseppe Verdi, Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 16 11 61.

Cezanne's place of birthPick up a free annotated map there when you arrive. You can also take a (paid-for) Cézanne tour with a guide by arrangement.

There are nearly three dozen stops on the walk, which is also an ideal way to view virtually all the main places of interest in Aix since it goes right past them.

The city is compact and you won't need to linger in front of many of the locations - some, such as homes of obscure friends and relations, are of rather marginal interest - and so you could comfortably do the circuit in two to three hours.

The route begins at the Tourist Office, near La Rotonde fountain, and is is marked by brass studs, pictured top left, set into the pavement, though vandals or souvenir hunters have prised them out here and there and some small side-streets don't seem to have them. The stops themselves are unshowy too, and a number of the buildings have no plaques at all.

The illegitimate son of a hat-maker, Louis-Auguste Cézanne, and one of his employees, Anne-Elisabeth-Honorine Auburt, Paul Cézanne was born on 19 January 1839 at 28 rue de L'Opéra.

It was a charitable institution, a plain-fronted house, pictured, in a narrow side-street that's commemorated today by a very simple painted sign, just to the right of the front door.

Nearby, on the place des Prêcheurs - the site today of one of Aix's colourful street markets - is the Church of La Madeleine, where Paul was christened and where his parents eventually married five years after his birth.

A few hundred yards up the road at the top of the Cours Mirabeau next to Les Deux Garçons brasserie, Louis-Auguste Cézanne's hat business (chapellerie) can be seen.

The hat shop run by Cezanne's father in Aix en ProvenceIts faded, painted sign advertising its merchandise gros et détail (wholesale and retail) is still legible above the tackily incongruous frontage of a modern bank (advertising has got more garish since Cézanne père was making hats).

Such was the success of the hat trade that Louis-Auguste Cézanne soon went on to start a bank of his own, when Paul was nine.

It was based in ordinary town houses: at first in the rue des Cordeliers in the Old Town, later moving a few blocks up the road in the rue Boulegon.

 

His father's financial success gave Paul a measure of freedom to pursue his passion for art. But at the same time he came under pressure to enter a "proper" profession and, from 1859 to 1861, attended the law school of the University of Aix, in the Old Town (a flagstone there records its reluctant student).

Statue of Paul Cezanne in Aix en Provence by Gabriel SterkHe left without graduating and, perhaps to escape altogether, went to Paris in 1861. It would be some 20 years before Cézanne returned to Provence.

Unsurprisingly, several of the stops on the walk are bars on the Cours Mirabeau which the artist liked to frequent. At Les Deux Garçons, which has a long history of famous clients, one of Cézanne's favourite meals was the simple peasant dish of aïoli.

Almost directly opposite, Café Clément was apparently another of his preferred watering holes; today it is a mundane clothing shop.

Further down the Cours, near the Fontaine de la Rotonde, the Café Oriental has now become a restaurant in the Bistrot Romain chain. But the interior dining room with its high, stucco'ed, painted ceiling, retains a belle époque charm.

The tour takes in some of Aix's leading sights, such as the Musée Granet, where Cézanne studied art, and the Cathedral of Saint Sauveur, where he worshipped each Sunday, and where his funeral was held.

It passes a small memorial to the artist, a bronze medallion designed by Pierre-Auguste Renoir above the fountain at the rue des Bagniers, as well as the statue of Cézanne, pictured, by the Dutch sculptor Gabriël Sterk which was erected in 2006 for the centenary of the artist's death (you'll find it opposite the Fontaine de la Rotonde).

The pilgrimage ends in the quiet alleys lined with lavender and olive trees at the Cimitière Saint Pierre, just off the ring-road that encircles the city centre.

The cemetery is large (7 hectares/ 17 acres) and discreet about its celebrated resident: the way to Cézanne's grave is not signposted.

But if the office by the main entrance is open, you can get a small, free plan of the cemetery, which also indicates various notables buried there, including the composer Darius Milhaud and numerous other local painters.

If the office is closed, don't worry: you can still very easily find where Cézanne is buried, in a simple family memorial right in the corner, at the junction of Allée 6 and Allée 7, near the Jewish area (the Carré Israëlite) of the cemetery.

Grave of Paul Cezanne, Aix en ProvenceAt a stretch he's even within sight of the Mont Sainte Victoire which obsessed him and inspired some of his most revolutionary work.

A plaque there reminds us of Cézanne's words in a 1906 letter to his son, describing his passion in typically laconic terms.

"Je vais au paysage tous les jours, les motifs sont beaux et je passe ainsi mes jours plus agréablement qu'autre part" ("I go out into the countryside every day, the views are beautiful and in this way I spend my days more pleasantly than anywhere else").

If you would like to venture further afield in Cézanne's footsteps, click here to read our guide to a drive or ride along the route Cézanne around the Mont Sainte Victoire.

Click here to read about two self-guided walks in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh in Arles and in Saint Rémy de Provence.

 

 

Find further reading on Amazon

On Site with P. Cézanne in Provence Published by the Paul Cézanne society, this superbly illustrated book is essential for anyone seriously following the master's trail, and a beautiful souvenir if you're visiting the sites.

Art experts discuss Cézanne's work in L'Estaque, Bibémus, the Jas de Bouffon and the Lauves studio, analysing the paintings and comparing them with photographs of the locations.

Cézanne: A Biography The German-American art historian John Rewald is regarded as a - possibly the - leading expert on Cézanne - in fact, he is even buried next to his mentor in Aix en Provence. His authoritative biography includes letters, photographs and a catalogue raisonné.

Cézanne: A Life is the first major new biography of the artist for many decades. The author, Alex Danchev, is not a traditional art historian and comes at his subject from an unusual angle.

His biography has received rave reviews in The Sunday Times, The Spectator and elsewhere as a revealing and sympathetic portrait of a man always previously been regarded as prickly, physically awkward and aloof.

RELATED ARTICLES

Main Menu