- Aix en Provence
I was thinking of Paul Cézanne when I visited Aix en Provence yesterday. There is an imposing statue of the painter at the foot of the Cours Mirabeau. Up close the statue conveys a sense of a great man surveying his native city. We see the Paul Cézanne who Pablo Picasso famously described as the father of modern painting and the Paul Cézanne who painted The Card Players, a work which sold for $250 million dollars in 2011 becoming the 3rd most expensive painting ever sold.
Yet when I looked at the statue from afar Cézanne seemed somehow diminished. A man to sympathise with, rather than revere. Here was a painter pilloried by his contemporaries, who Claude Monet once mocked by saying that he painted with a trowel. From my new more distant perspective the statue suggested a despondent Cézanne, turning away from the crowded streets of Aix and heading out to produce another of his unloved canvasses.
Cézanne must have felt compelled to paint. He certainly worked with a fury all his life. When his father died, he became financially secure inheriting the family house at Jas de Bouffan. But instead of enjoying his new status, the house was sold, and Cézanne constructed a studio and villa in the Lauzes district of Aix. The money in his pocket did nothing to quieten the inner demon that drove him into the Provencal countryside. Perhaps then it was inevitable that Cézanne would be killed by his passion. In 1906 he died from a lung infection picked up while painting in a thunderstorm.
And so, to me at least, the significance of the Cézanne statue at the base of the Cours Mirabeau, is a reminder that being an artist is not a conscious choice. If it were, there would be no artists. Creation is a painful and often unrewarding process. And when a work is done, regardless of the reaction of the outside world, the artist has no choice but to set the canvass aside and get on with the next.
Anyone wanting to find out more about Cézanne can join one of Provence Guru’s Small Group Tours 2023.