Aix’s most famous resident was painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) who was born and died in the city. Much of his art featured the countryside around Aix and it is said that art-minded tourists can see the mountain depicted in Le Mont Sainte-Victoire paintings from the city itself. Appropriately Cézanne has been remembered by a statue by La Rotonde. And his studios at Lauves workshop have now been turned into a museum in Cezanne’s honour.
Cezanne was not always in his home town. In 1861 he arrived in Paris, failed the entrance examination to the Ecole des Beaux Arts and returned home, tail between his legs, to get a “proper job”. Although his father had distrusted art as a stable career, he did finally agree to provide Paul with some financial support. So as a young artist, Cézanne had to spend most of his time between Paris and Aix.
Emile Zola (1840-1902) was not a local. He was born in Paris and was quite young when his parents settled in Aix for work. Cezanne and Zola became close friends at school. In 1858 Zola left Aix to join his mother in Paris, but wrote frequently to his old pal and caught up with the friendship every summer holiday. Apparently Cezanne and Zola used to while away the summer early evenings before dinner along Cours Mirabeau, enjoying a drink or three at Les Deux Garcons.
The Deux Garçons is Aix’s pride and joy. A Monsieur Guion purchased the building in the mid C18th and sought to create a meeting place for the aristocrats of Aix-en-Provence, one modelled after the English clubs that were popular in France back then. He transformed the ground floor into this club and it soon saw conflict between supporters of the old regime and local revolutionaries. So the club was quickly closed in 1790. In 1792, as you can see from the shade cloth, it was re-opened as a café called Café Julien; in 1840, when two waiters purchased it, the café was re-christened Les Deux Garçons. This brasserie still has its gold and dark green Empire style interior.
Paul Cézanne died in 1906, a few years after his old schoolmate Zola. So in 2006 the city of Aix-en-Provence organised Cézanne-in-Provence exhibition and celebrations at Cezanne’s old home, school and art studio. I sincerely hope the city fathers also included Cezanne’s main drinkery. Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse certainly did! Both artists were both heavily influenced by Cezanne and both of them spent their last years in the area. In 1958, Picasso bought a château on the edge of Aix next to Mont Sainte-Victoire, the exact mountain made famous by his hero Cézanne.
Location of Aix in the south of France