Artists in Provence

As you travel through Provence, the sights and scenery inspire even the amateur artist or photographer to bring out their sketchpad or camera and get started, sketching or clicking. When you think of Provence, it’s rugged mountains – Mont Ventoux and Mont Saint Victoire, picturesque Mediterranean coast dotted with active towns and small sleepy fishing villages along the blue, blue Mediterranean, deep and colorful ochre hills with villages perched on the very top, dramatic gorges, rivers and waterfalls. All of this plus incredible sunshine and the legendary light of Provence … Is it any wonder that artists have been drawn to this area for hundreds of years?

Montagne Sainte Victoire – near Aix-en-Provence by Paul Cezanne

But it’s more than just the spectacular scenery, it’s as much the people of Provence – their solid values – their enjoyment of life and their celebrations – of the country around them – to say nothing of their approach both work and fun, that becomes a part of the scene and draws you here. Through the years many, many artists felt just that, as they traveled regularly to the area to work or vacation, indeed some made it their home.

Vincent van Gogh – Self Portrait – Artist wearing a hat

Perhaps the most familiar of the Artists in Provence is Vincent Van Gogh, although the time he spent in Provence was relatively short (just two years). It was a dramatic time in his life, nevertheless a very productive time. He lived in Arles from Febuary 1888 until May 1889 where he began painting local scenes right away. Leaving Arles in May 1889 he spent the next year in St. Remy – where he moved into four rented rooms of the “Little Yellow House”. His friend Paul Gauguin visited him there and stayed for some time.

Vincent van Gogh – Arles – Night Cafe

Vincent van Gogh – A Starry Night Over The Rhone – Painted during his time at St. Remy de provence

This period of his art is amongst his best known, and includes such works as “Starry Night Over The Rhone” In 1890, his mental condition caused him to commit himself to the Mental Hospital in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, but he continued to work and used the garden of the hospital as a subject in many of his paintings. This was also the time when he did his some of his best known paintings, including “The Starry Night”.

The artist Paul Cezanne, painted by his friend Camille Pissarro

Paul Cezanne was born in Aix-en-Provence and though he did spend time in Paris where he developed a strong friendship with the group known as the Impressionists, his love of his birthplace brought him back to spend most of his life and in Provence, where he did most of his paintings. Amongst his subjects, Mont Saint Victoire featured strongly.

Paul Cezanne – The Great Pine

Paul Cezanne – Le Chateau Noir

Other than Paul Cezanne who was Provencal, Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet were the two Impressionists who painted in Provence more than any of the others in the Parisian group . Although his better known paintings were set in and around the River Seine and Paris, Auguste Renoir enjoyed and often visited Provence, staying in Beaulieu, Grasse, St.Raphael and Cannes. At the age of 65 he developed Rheumatoid Arthritis and moved to Provence where he settled in the hills of Cagnes-sur-Mer with his wife and two sons. He continued to paint there until his death in 1919. His former home “Les Collettes” in Cagnes-sur-Mer is now a Museum known as the Musee Renoir.

Auguste Renoir – View of la Seyne, Provence

Claude Monet – View of Salis Gardens Antibes

Claude Monet – Antibes – Afternoon Effect

Claude Monet visited Cezanne in Aix-en-Provence in December 1883, during a trip that he took with Renoir along the Mediterranean Coast, all the way to Genoa. Monet was very taken with the town of Antibes which became the subject of a number of his paintings.

Pablo Picasso – Peche de Nuit a Antibes (Night Fishing in Antibes)

The Picasso Museum in Antibes

About twenty years later, Picasso also found the town of Antibes fascinating and spent several months there decorating the Grimaldi Castle and Museum with his paintings as well as creating a number of other works which he donated to the town of Antibes when he left. Amongst these works of art are “The Keys of Antibes”, “Peche de Nuit a Antibes”, and Woman with Sea Urchins. Picasso also enjoyed the nearby village of Mougins where he painted Paysage de Mougins II.

Marc Chagall – St Paul de Vence

In the meantime Picasso’s friend Chagall, spent his time in Nice and Saint Paul de Vence. His first month in Nice was a very rainy one, but he eventually found the wonderful light of Provence, just in time to prevent his departure and he stayed in Nice for a considerable amount of time. While there, he worked tirelessly and found the silvery light playing off the lively colors of the town and the shimmering Mediterranean covering subjects that included the architectural aspects of the town and items of everyday life such as women’s fashion and parasols. In Saint Paul de Vence his paintings, “Couple au-dessus de Saint Paul” and “La Table devant le Village” show this Provencal village.

Paul Cezanne – Mont St Victoire

These are only a few of the many well known artists who have taken inspiration from the scenery and light in Provence – which continues to inspire artists today. It’s not difficult to see why, when you are constantly looking at scenery that could be straight out of an Impressionist painting.

Vincent van Gogh – Wheatfields with Cypresses

If you are traveling in Provence and would like to visit the sites that inspired great artists, below is some information that I hope you will find helpful. If you are an artist, I know you will find lots of subject matter to sketch or paint and wish you lots of good work!

Images –

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