The University town of Aix en Provence is an absolute delight. What with the old Provençal buildings, avenues and squares, the plane trees shading the cafes with dappled light, and the numerous fountains. Having enjoyed the huge Saturday market and a lunch on the Cours Mirabeau we set about some of the museums.
Top of the list was the Musée Granet. This refurbished museum shows a rich collection of works including Ingres and Rembrandt. A fine collection but in truth, you could say typically provincial. Dominated by regional artists, whose better work is elsewhere. There is a good opportunity, however, to see the works of François-Marius Granet (1775-1849) whose name was adopted for the museum by Aix on the centenary of his death in 1949. An accomplished painter himself with examples such as his own Montaigne Sainte-Victoire.
Le Montaigne Sainte-Victoire seen from a farmyard at Malvalat, François Marius Granet. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence.
It is also an opportunity to see his exquisite portrait by Jean-August’s-Dominique Ingres. Ingres painted his portrait in 1807 in a series using scenes of Rome as background, this one showing Granet foregrounding the Quiniral, one of the seven ancient hills and now a metonym for the Italian President.
Portrait of François Marius Granet, 1807, Jean-Augusta-Dominique Ingres. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence.
I thought the collection of Cézanne, however, was very ordinary, except perhaps his hauntingly good portrait of Madame Cézanne. The great artist painted over forty portraits of his wife, Hortense, so they do crop up quite a few times but I found this one exceptionally good. There is, of course a “Bathers” on show, showing the early experimentation with multi point perspective.
Portrait of Madame Cézanne, 1885-86, Paul Cézanne. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence
The Bathers, c1895, Paul Cézanne. Musée Granet, Aix en Provence.
However the temporary exhibition featuring Picasso and Picabia takes your breath away.
Picasso Picabia: La Pienture au Défi, or the “Painter Challenges”, considers the comparisons between the two artists as part of Picasso Mediterranée 2017-2019. The 150 works from around the world show the comparisons exhibiting the skills in figurative work, cubism, mechanical modernism, Surrealism and abstract ideas. The theme is that Francois Picabia (1879 – 1953) the local Parisian greatly influenced Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) as a young man in the French capital. This influence was then reciprocated with Picabia in awe of Picasso later in the century. The colour and dynamism of the work goes all through the exhibition, and I have included just two of the exhilarating exhibits, from around 1925.
The Woman with the Monacle, Francois Picabia, 1924, Private Collection.
The Lover, Pablo Picasso, 1925, Musée National Picasso, Paris.
Having missed Picasso in Vallauris and Antibes we had more than our fill in Aix where the extension of the Museum (Granet XX) features the collection of the painter and collector, Jean Planque. This amazing collection is housed in old chapel a few yards away. There are Picasso’s that Planque bought and those he commissioned together with an astounding collection of twentieth century art featuring work of all the greats in French Modern Art. I’ll save for another day.
Back home now after a really great tour of Southern France. We probably saw only a fraction of what is available in public galleries, and of course the numerous gothic and Romanesque Abbeys. Still – a good excuse to go back some time.
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Yes, I know what you mean about French provincial museums. I remember in particular a couple of dispiriting visits to Nantes and Montpellier although, as you say, there always tends to be a few excellent pieces which helps to lift the gloom. The municipal collection at Nice which we visited last month was certainly very much worth the considerable effort to find – some cracking Dufy. Also discovered a most interesting local boy Gustav-Adolf Mossa.
The Picasso – Picabia exhibition sounds most interesting. I have always thought Picabia to be underrated and Picasso overrated after 1914 (Guernica and a few other pieces excepted)!
Aix en Provence was a favourite subject of the artist Laurence Fish, who died in Winchcombe in 2009 . Following his death his widow, Jean Bray, who was the archivist at Sudeley Castle, wrote and published a book on Lawrence’s life ‘Pick up a Pencil’. The book contains a number of his sketches and paintings including his ‘spring sunshine in Aix-en-Provence’` and ‘street scene in Aix-en- Provence’ on one corner of the famous Cours Mirabeau with its fountains and plane trees. He was a super person who was always happy to have a chat whilst sharing a decent glass of wine. Jean’s book is well worth purchasing and reading. I am delighted I have it on my book shelf.