A telier des Lumières, literally translated in English as Light Workshop, is the only museum of its kind in the world that shows an artist’s works projected not only on its high and broad walls, but equally on the ceilings and floors, accompanied with classical music creating a magical effect on art enthusiasts.
During normal times, the Atelier exhibitions last three or four months but, this spring, the organisers have taken the unusual decision to hold on to a French painter’s masterpieces for an entire year, under the title ‘Paul Cezanne, the Sunshine of Provence.’
But first, a few words about Cezanne’s own life and his birthplace Aix-en-Provence, the southern French city where the sun is practically bright throughout the year and its dazzling landscapes would hence remain the painter’s inspiration as well as his obsession all his life.
Paul Cezanne was born in the mid-19th century and his father, a rich banker, naturally had no other ambition but to educate his son in his own profession and eventually hand over to him the business once his retirement age arrived. For this very purpose, the young man was sent to Paris to complete his higher studies in economics.
Probably purely by coincidence, Paul Cezanne would be given a residence in the legendary Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris, well reputed for its artists and intellectuals. Cezanne wouldn’t be able to resist the temptation to himself start painting, sitting in the street like all the others.
An extended exhibition in Paris throws light on the ‘father’ of post-Impressionism and Cubism
His encounters with prominent figures of the time, such as the painter Camille Pissaro and the author Emile Zola, would finally result in his totally abandoning banking studies, much to the disappointment of his father, and turn into a full-time painter.
By age 30, already well-known following a number of exhibitions in Paris, Cezanne would eventually return to his birthplace Provence and continue painting, rarely living in the city but mostly in the southern villages in order to be close to nature, with its sunny landscapes, hills, animals and peasants working in their farms under a radiant blue sky.
Apart from nature, Cezanne’s other fetish would be changing human faces with passing time. This can be seen in his numerous self-portraits and those of his wife and children, all putting an impact on the variations that advancing years bring to peoples’ looks. For these creations, Cézanne would deliberately choose a rather staid but realistic technique.
“That is the only way to capture the inner personality of a subject in a portrait,” he would explain to an art critic. As a result, people in his paintings are rarely seen looking back at the artist but, instead, are most of the time concentrated on whatever they are doing: his father reading a newspaper, his wife sewing a dress, his children playing with cats and dogs, to take only a few examples.
Cezanne’s energy would remain inexhaustible until the end of his life in his town of birth in 1906, at age 67. By this time, he had completed as many as 200 portraits and more than a thousand landscapes, in a style that art experts would later qualify as the fountainhead of the post-Impressionist and Cubist waves.
This observation would also be confirmed most eagerly by the following generation masters of these techniques, such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, who would refer to Paul Cezanne as “the father of us all.”
The writer is an art critic based in Paris. He may be reached on email@example.com
‘Paul Cezanne, The Sunshine of Provence’ will be exhibited at the Atelier des Lumières , Paris, until December 31, 2022
Published in Dawn, EOS, March 27th, 2022