Thursday, November 30, 2017

Aix-en-Provence, France: In Cezanne's studio with his apples

In the front of Cezanne's studio with our friends from Provence

Inside Cezanne's studio. Note his famous props he used for years, a bottle, vase, cup.

You can see an unfinished painting of Sainte Victorire, the neverending muse of Cezanne. He painted the mountain, again and again, to capture all its splendor.
Paul Cezanne, born in Aix-en-Provence, summed up his love for sun-drenched Provence, "When you are born there, it's hopeless. Nothing else is good enough." The enchanting beauty of Provence never left him. It was when he was roaming the hillsides of Provence with Emile Zola, his childhood friend, that he realized he was an artist--much to his banker/businessman father's dismay. If you go to Aix, you too can wander Aix and see the landscape that sparked the great Post-Impression artist. And if you go in the autumn, rows of apple trees curve around the hills. Since I have always enjoyed Cezanne's still life pictures, the connection between Cezanne, Zola, and apples intrigues me. It is a story worth retelling that I heard at his studio when we visited Aix-en-Provence:

Paul Cezanne painted about 800 pounds of apples in his life. He obviously never tired of them, just like Monet unceasingly painted flowers. As a young boy exploring the countryside, Cezanne was a good friend to Emile Zola, the future French author. As a boy, Zola was taunted, teased and bullied by his classmates. Zola, a poor young boy whose father had prematurely died, was grateful to have a friend in Cezanne. He asked his mother what he could possibly give to someone who had been so kind--who had tangled with the bullies who pestered him. His mother, having nothing much else to give, offered him an old basket. Zola promptly put a few apples in the basket and gave it to Cezanne as a token of his gratitude.

The apples, probably a last minute decision from a young boy to throw in a basket, were the sparks that led to a resurrection in still life painting. Through the years, Cezanne always kept the basket in his studio. And if you visit, there are a few small piles of apples dotted around the room--just to remind you of the endless beauty and fascination he had with the simple apple. With a few props that he painted for thirty years, including the ubiquitous apples and sometimes a few other fruit, Cezanne changed the journey of art. In a way, apples brought him much acclaim. Matisse, Picasso, and others noticed how Cezanne placed those apples--the colors, space, and how they seemed to be haphazardly placed in time. Yet, Cezanne painted balance in an unbalanced world (or painting). He bridged Impressionism to Cubism, and is known as "the father of modern art."

It is the same as in real life: the small, seemingly perceptible connections in life (like apples) loom large. A childhood gift from an appreciative friend changed both young boys' lives. Zola experienced true friendship and knew he could depend on Cezanne to free him from bullying. His simple childhood gift of apples and a basket tilted Cezanne's artistic mind. He endlessly painted that image all of his life, bringing all the color, light, shape, and texture to a new artistic movement. Who would have guessed?

I will never look at an apple in another way. It makes me wonder about the gifts I give and the ones I receive. But perhaps most significant to note about the story: the best gifts are kindness and friendship--the refusal to belittle or ridicule another. To live a life that is free of shaming others is one of the best gifts you can give. To Paul Cezanne's great credit, he unknowingly and ultimately gave this gift to himself.

The famous basket that Emile Zola gave Paul Cezanne when they were children growing up in Provence, France

Here are some of the props he used for 30 years as he resurrected "the still life" from the Dutch 17th century still life paintings. Cezanne brought balance and harmony to the canvas--despite the topsy-turvy disorder of how he placed things. He was discovering a new trajectory in art.

You can wander on a path recounting Cezanne's life, but my favorite was his studio.
A hill in Aix-en-Provence you can climb to where Cezanne painted his favorite mountain.

One of Cezanne's famous still life paintings, typically showing his fascination with apples.

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