The Musee Granet, Aix en ProvenceOnce a sleepy provincial gallery, the Granet Museum has, thanks to some important loans and bequests, built up a fine collection of modern art over the last decade and now stages several major exhibitions a year.

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In spite of its lively current programme, the Musée Granet will never live down the fact that it has just a handful of works in its permanent collection by Aix's most famous son.

Paul Cézanne, who studied life drawing at the museum as a young man, later offered it dozens of paintings in later life and was rudely rejected.

"Never in my lifetime will any of his works enter here," declared the then-curator Auguste-Henri Pontier, a minor sculptor whose own work has long since passed into obscurity.

Still, the Musée Granet has since done its best to make up for this embarrassing blunder with a spectacular blockbuster retrospective in 2006 marking the centenary of the artist's death, followed by another major show, Picasso Cézanne, in 2009.

It has secured other works by Cézanne on temporary long-term loan and in 2010, acquired the only known portrait by Cézanne of his childhood friend, the writer Emile Zola, before the two men became estranged in later life.

Les Baigneuses, Paul Cezanne, Musee Granet, AixHowever the Cézannes, which also include a small study for Les Baigneuses (pictured) and a portrait of Madame Cézanne, are frequently away on loan.

And his three very late watercolours of the Mont Sainte Victoire are only on display intermittently for conservation reasons, so don't make Cézanne the basis for your expedition to the Musée Granet.

At the Granet this spring: the African-inspired abstract paintings of Pierre Graziani. 18 March-16 April.

The big summer 2017 show is called Passion de l'Art and will feature mainly abstract, contemporary work on loan from the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger gallery in Paris. 3 June-24 September. The winter 2017 event is devoted to the 20th century artist Pierre Tal-Coat.

Previous recent exhibitions at the Granet have included Icônes américaines, (American Icons), contemporary paintings on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, Aix Antique, which explored the Roman origins of Aix en Provence and the massively successful Chefs d'Oeuvre de la Collection Pearlman (Masterpieces from the Pearlman Collection), a showcase for the discerning private collection of the American businessman Henry Pearlman.

PicassoFemmeauMiroir3Apart from these special events, there are plenty of other things to see. One of the museum's key long-term loans came in 2000 from the collector Philippe Meyer.

It includes an impressive cluster of 19 pieces by Giacometti as well as works by Léger, Mondrian, Klee and others.

In 2010 the Musée Granet was the beneficiary of another loan, this time from the Fondation Planque, the estate of the Swiss collectors Jean and Suzanne Planque, comprising some 300 works by Degas, Klee, Picasso, Braque and others. Pictured: Picasso's Femme au Miroir (1959) from the Planque Collection.

For some time, space constraints at the Granet - which is based in the 17th century Palais of Malta, the former priory of the Knights of Malta, in the Mazarin Quarter - prevented these riches from all being on display.

But in 2013 a new annexe was created to house the Planque collection at the nearby 17th century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs.

Back at the Musée Granet's main building, the permanent collection includes finds from the Celto-Ligurian archaeological site (dating from the third to second centuries BC) at Entremont, just north of Aix: limestone sculptures of warriors, ceramics, jewellery, and implements. Other galleries are devoted to a lot of rather dull 19th century marble busts and sculptures.

Jupiter and Thetis by IngresElsewhere, paintings from the 14th to 18th centuries, including pieces by Rubens and Rembrandt, are grouped, intriguingly, by theme rather than by date or artist, with sequences devoted to Saint Mary Magdalene, who died in Aix, children, old age, musicians and so forth.

A whole room is dedicated to François-Marius Granet (1775-1849), a local painter whose personal collection formed the original basis of the museum.

Alas, he was himself an undistinguished artist, through the display includes a nice portrait of Granet by Ingres, whose giant, strange and ambivalent Jupiter and Thetis (1811), pictured, is one of the museum's most arresting works.

The signage is in French only, but an audio guide is available in English, German, Italian, Spanish and Japanese. There is also an audio guide for children.

The Musée Granet has no cafeteria. However there are machines dispensing coffee, soft drinks and snacks and a pleasant courtyard for resting in.

Insider Tip for the Musee GranetEntrance to the Musée Granet is free (apart from certain major exhibitions) on the first Sunday of every month.

Where: Musée Granet, place Saint Jean de Malte and the Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, place Jean-Boyer (at the top of the rue du maréchal Joffre), 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 52 88 32

The front entrance of the main building is acceded by steps, but there is wheelchair access at 18 rue Roux Alphéran, just round the corner. Website for the Musée Granet

 

 

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