The studio where Cézanne worked till the end of his life, the Atelier des Lauves is steeped in the artist's personality. It displays his painting materials and personal belongings as if he had just popped out for air.
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A THUMBNAIL HISTORY
Cézanne lost his father in 1886, and his mother in 1897. After his inheritance had been shared with his sisters, the family was obliged to sell its country home at the Jas de Bouffan.
In November 1901 the artist, then 61, bought a plot of land at Les Lauves, an area of open countryside in the hills north of Aix. A simple two-storey house was built, and on 1 September 1902 Cézanne started working there.
Today the city suburbs have expanded to swallow up the area, but the house still stands in 7,000 square metres / 1.7 acres of delightfully wild and overgrown gardens, which you are free to stroll around.
The studio is on the first floor. Living accommodation had been created on the ground floor, but Cézanne ended up using this mainly to store his canvasses - up to 2,000 of them - and continued to reside in an apartment in the city, at 23 rue Boulegon.
Each morning he would rise very early and walk the 1.2 km / 0.7 miles up the hill to the studio. He'd work there from about 6am to 10.30am, return to Aix for lunch, then go back to paint until 5.30pm, either in the studio or further up the hill at a vantage point offering superlative views of the Mont Sainte Victoire: you can still visit this site today.
It was up here, in autumn 1906, that Cézanne got caught in a rainstorm and was taken home unconscious in a laundry cart. He rose again early the following day to work on a portrait of Vallier, his gardener.
But his condition worsened and he died of pleurisy six days later during the night of 22-23 October. "I have sworn to die painting," Cézanne had written only a few days earlier. And he did.
The studio remained empty for 15 years. It was bought in 1921 by one Marcel Provence, who lived there until his own death in 1951.
Anxious to rescue it from property developers, the art historian and Cézanne scholar John Rewald organised a committee of over 100 American benefactors who purchased the house, then gifted it to the university.
Marilyn Monroe was, some believe, among those who came to see it: "A wonderful visit," she wrote in the guest book. (However more recent research has called her visit into doubt.) Since 1969 the studio has been owned by the City of Aix.
THE GUIDED TOUR
Open to the public since 1954, this is a well established stop on the tourist trail. In summer over 400 people a day will pass through, many of them in accompanied groups. Only 25 people are admitted at a time, but you might be hard pressed to feel the serenity and silence that Cézanne must have known there.
In winter, when we visited, the approach is much more casual. There are still guided tours (check with the Tourist Office for the current timetable). At other times you can wander round on your own at your leisure and ask questions of the guides stationed there.
Some 50 square metres / 530 square feet square by 60 metres / 200 feet high, the studio is a gracefully proportioned, high-ceilinged room with a huge window on the north side for the pure light that painters crave.
Two more windows face south towards the city. The walls are painted a particular shade of grey that the famously demanding artist took five weeks to get just right.
Scattered around on shelves and tables are jugs, pots, rum bottles, fruit bowls (with the celebrated Cézanne apples laid out in them), a plaster cupid by François Dusquenoy and other subjects that inspired his still life studies. The three human skulls were procured for him by a friend who worked at the Museum of Natural History.
Apart from the landscapes and still lifes, Cézanne painted portraits and several large versions of The Bathers (Les Baigneuses) here.
You'll see his huge easel (used for, among other things, Les Baigneuses), a ladder, brushes, palettes, a folding stool, an old stove, a smock, coat and a couple of hats, a walking stick and (in the cabinets) a clay pipe and a notebook with all the local train times carefully recorded in Cézanne's sloping hand.
Pictured: Cézanne at Les Lauves in 1906, photographed by Gertrude Osthaus, the wife of the museum director Karl Ernst Osthaus.
At the entrance a small shop sells books and prints. The gardener's shack next to the house has been transformed into a videothèque where you can watch a 20 minute film.
Quotes from Cézanne talking about his work accompany a brisk visual tour of some of the famous images he created at the studio. If you ask at the ticket office, they will switch on the English-language version.
You could make this visit a more extended trip and bring a picnic to eat either on the small terrace in front of the house or elsewhere in the extensive grounds (you can buy water from the shop but no other food or drink is sold there).
In summer various events are organised in the gardens. Ask at the box office or the Tourist Office for details of upcoming ones and click here to read about the programme of gastronomic and cultural events in previous years.
Click here to read about Gianfranco Iannuzzi's magical son et lumière installation in the garden at Les Lauves between 2002 and 2007.
Try to make time to visit the Terrain des Peintres. This is where Cézanne would go in the afternoons to paint "on location". It's 0.8 km / half a mile up the hill from the studio: you could walk it in 20 minutes, or the bus no.5 will take you there.
Look for a flight of ochre stone steps on your left, just opposite the Paul Cézanne Maison de Retraite (Retirement Home).
Go up the small hill through a garden planted with lavender, olive trees and cypresses to the peaceful, high vantage point where Cézanne set up his easel to record the magnificent view of his beloved Mont Saint Victoire a few last times. Reproductions of nine of these paintings remind you of the extraordinary visions he saw.
The three essential Cézanne sites in Aix are the Jas de Bouffan, the Bibémus Quarries and the studio at Les Lauves (which is by a very long way the most popular attraction with tourists). They should be seen in this sequence if you want to experience them in the order they assumed in the artist's own life.
In summer, it's possible to do this, but in winter, when the opening hours are more restricted, you would probably need to allow three half days in order to see them all, as they are located on different sides of the city. Pictured: the Mont Sainte Victoire seen from Les Lauves, 1904-1906, Kunstmuseum Basel.
The studio tour lasts 20-30 minutes, but you will need several hours there if you want to watch the 20-minute video, spend some time in the grounds and visit the Terrain des Peintres as well.
Check the website or Tourist Office for the opening times, which vary according to the season (it's open all year round). There is a tour in English.
It's recommended for individuals and compulsory for groups to reserve in advance at the Tourist Office, Les Allées provençales, 300 avenue Giuseppe Verdi, Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 16 11 61.
If time is tight and you can't manage any of these three guided sites, you can get a taste of Cézanne by taking a self-guided walking tour of the places in central Aix that marked the artist's life. Or, 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.
Where: 9 avenue Paul Cézanne, 13100 Aix en Provence. Tel: (+33) 4 42 21 06 53. Fax: (+33) 4 42 21 90 34. Website for the Cézanne sites in Aix en Provence
How to get there: Bus no.5 from La Rotonde.
Pictured below: Cézanne at the Mont Sainte Victoire photographed by Kerr-Xavier Roussel in January 1906.
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 leading expert on Cézanne - 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.