It seems fitting that the studio painter Paul Cézanne built late in his life is open but five hours a day, first from 10 to noon, then from 2 to 5. This is an unassuming place, well-suited to the rhythms of Provence.
Guests enter the grounds through a modest red plank door, where a sign in French and English awaits early birds.
“This is my studio,” it says. “No one can get in except me, but because you are a friend, we will go together.”
Such is the spirit of the Cézanne atelier. There are no paintings of the master here, no reproductions either, other than in the gift shop. The space holds only the odds and ends of the last four years of Cézanne’s life, when he painted here in the hills above Aix-en-Provence, the city in which he was born and died, the place he most loved. There’s a faded leather bag, his artist’s smock, the sculpture of a cherub, three skulls, a bookcase, a patterned blanket, and lots of other odds and ends. As Cézanne’s paintings scroll slowly by on a television screen, many of these objects come to the forefront, dominant objects in his still-lifes.
Guests enter his studio, or atelier, from grounds scattered with slate-topped tables and chairs set randomly around them. The songbirds like this place.
“It’s nice to be here first thing in the morning with no people,” Kathy said. “Just close your eyes.”
We poked around the grounds and then looked at a small exhibit of the colorful wooden cutouts of artist Pascal Fancony, based on two works of the master. Then we went inside, past the red shutters, past two over-sized watering cans, up a flight of red-tiled stairs. The studio itself is a single room; the paint on its towering ceilings is peeling. There’s a letter to Claude Monet, plain wood plank floors, a patchwork of window panes that cover the entire north wall and two, floor-to-ceiling windows on the south wall.
Seven years ago, I recall being disappointed when we visited, likely expecting to see some of the painter’s work and less, perhaps, of him. But this time we were unhurried and found the experience of visiting the space a pleasure. As the city of Aix, which operates the studio, writes: “Don’t expect to find anything here but Cézanne himself.”
Cézanne painted the region’s magnificent and massive Montagne Sainte-Victoire 87 different times. What we did not know seven years ago is that there’s a park, a 20-minutes up the road from his atelier, where Cézanne created many of those works. It may be the single most beautiful spot in Aix, high in the hills, with the mountain unfolding to its full stature beyond the cypress trees and tile-roofed houses. And while the museum costs roughly $8 to visit, the natural space where Cézanne painted is absolutely free.
Don’t walk to the atelier without walking beyond. The view is breathtaking.