The Saturday Cezanne excursion started at 9:00 AM at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau. We piled onto the bus that was waiting for us, and headed across town. Once the bus was rolling, John Gasparach, the professor for the Cezanne and Van Gogh art history class, got up and started handing out papers. After some introductory remarks we arrived at Cezanne’s studio where he worked late in life. After chatting in the garden, we made our way upstairs. John was able to get us in before it officially opened, so we had the studio room to ourselves. After spending some time looking around, we gathered together in front of a still life. Because we had the space to ourselves, we were able to observe the configuration of apples, cloth and other items from every angle, as well as with the south-facing windows open and shuttered, to see what the different effects were. Interacting with a space designed by Cezanne allowed us to see into the mind of the artist, and begin to understand how he designed the space to best suit his artistic needs.
From Cezanne’s studio we went clear across Aix to the Chateau Noir, a property kept by a family friendly to the Marchutz School, who has owned it since the days when Cezanne would work there. Here, we were able to have our first chance to sit for an hour or two with one or two reproductions of paintings by Cezanne in front of the physical landscape he was painting. By doing this we were able to see exactly what he was up to when he made certain decisions, playing up one element of the motif, sacrificing another. After some hard work looking, we hiked up behind the Chateau Noir to the plateau that runs all the way out to Mont Sainte Victoire. From here we could look across the valley, from the mountain out to the next mountain range. We ate lunch and enjoyed the view before hiking back down and boarding the bus.
The afternoon was devoted to paintings of Mont Sainte Vicotire. First we went to the Bellevue farm, where Cezanne did some work in the 1880s and 90s. Here we studied his motif and the paintings that resulted, and talked about his belief that the more he looked and studied nature through art, the more his eye became concentric. We tried to figure out what this concentricity meant in terms of his paintings. We also examined what he meant by saying that his aim was to redo Poussin after nature. After a wonderful discussion and some careful looking, we moved to the Chemin des Lauves, where Cezanne painted his late mountain paintings. After a brief coffee and ice cream break on the way there, we split up into groups of 5 or 6. With our peers we spent some time looking at the mountain from this new side view. After studying the mountain we turned to his paintings from the early 1900s. Each group chose a painting and had a lengthy discussion of it, then presented the meat of their discussion to the group at the end. This was the most enriching part of the day. The students really had a feel for Cezanne’s development as an artist. They were seeing things in his work, as well as in the mountain, that they had never seen before.
It was a wonderful way to end the Art History unit on Cezanne, and on the bus ride home we all agreed that we were looking forward to turning our attention to Van Gogh.