A popular town to visit with wide boulevards and tree
lined streets in the south of France is Aix En Provence. It’s a far cry of
the Aix of the 1890s but it’s still a must for visitors to the south of
Art lovers often associate Aix En Provence with Cezanne
possibly because he painted so often at Vauvenargues close by. But another
great man came from the same place. Emile Zola, the great writer was not
only from Aix but he went to school with Cezanne and at 13, they became
close friends, even if it didn’t last.
Close by, in Aix, is the Granat Museum which houses part
of Cezanne’s work today.
In a recent article I mentioned that this Museum was
carrying a retrospective of Cezanne’s work as well as Picasso’s. This museum
was on Cezanne’s school route as well as Zola’s. If only they were here to
see Aix today.
True, they may not see it together as they had a falling
As students, they were fast friends even though Zola was a
difficult boy in many ways He was constantly day dreaming, stubborn and on
the wild side. He was the type children didn’t take too easily. But Cezanne
couldn’t ‘help liking him” and when Zola moved to Paris, Cezanne followed.
But the artist’s work was not appreciated and the future looked dim.
There were other artists in Cezanne’s circle like Monet
who painted a picture of Zola and Pisarro who suggested to Cezanne that he
reduce the number of colors he used. This was good and important advice.
Cezanne was a loner and remained outside of the circle.
From 1864 to 1869 his work was consistently rejected.
Cezanne became embittered over what to him was a great
slight by Zola who wrote in L’Oeuvre about a failed painter who was socially
isolated and a Bohemian. He said the painter in question was impeded by
invisible shackles in his effort to paint. Cezanne was so disappointed that
their friendship ended.
It was easy to see the character of Claude as being
modeled on Cezanne in Zola’s book. It is basically about a failed writer and
also mirrors Cezanne’s character. The artist treated women as though he
didn’t care for them and concealed his temerity behind an exterior bluster.
Zola designs his character after the model of Cezanne, who
he knows so well. He points out that the artist has distrust for women it is
his obsession with female idols that increases the artist’s withdrawal from
Hortense, the only real woman in his life. At that point, Cezanne had not
created a ‘masterpiece’ and it drives him to suicide as he hangs himself
next to the unfinished painting of a nude.
For Cezanne, the book was too much like him. He never
forgave Zola for writing it. Yet, he went on to marry, have a son and become
the painter that most novices envied.
The novel was a deep blow to the sensitive Cezanne. He
wrote a terse letter to his friend congratulating him on his publication. It
was the last time Cezanne wrote to his friend. The book had too many
similarities in Cezanne’s inner thoughts. Zola had touched on a nerve.
Cezanne went on to find his way and was uniquely successful Picasso called
him “our father.” All things, he said, started with Cezanne‘”.
It is interesting to note that Cezanne,
unlike Zola was alienated by his own family, the critics (until 1895) and
some friends, who found his behavior odd.
On the other hand, Zola too went on to
be a household name through his outpouring of Literature and his newspaper
It was Zola who wrote the famous
J’Accuse during the war of words and the taking of sides during the Dreyfus
Affair. He attacked the army (and the clergy) about their role in the
Dreyfus case, the case of a Jewish Army Officer who was falsely accused of
selling secrets to the Germans.
In his public letter that was headed by
the words, “J’Accuse” (I Accuse), he named names and pointed out how Dreyfus
was a scapegoat in 1894because he was a Jew. He dared the powers to be to
arrest him. He ends with the powerful words,”…I am waiting”. It is a fierce
denunciation of the French General Staff that was published by Georges
Clemenceau, later to become head of state, in his newspaper L’Aurore.
Cezanne was eventually successful but
for the most he was still a loner. His studio was built on the outskirts of
Aix-En-Provence. It is still there for the public to see. He never spoke to
Zola again and opposed his old friend’s stand on Dreyfus but they will be
When built, it was in a lonely solitary
place near an abandoned quarry. Even his many paintings of Mont St. Victoire
have a distant, secluded and lonely aura about them. But his success is now
obvious. He broke new ground. He led the way even though he was an
‘outsider. Today Cezanne is a household name.
As for Zola’s involvement in the Dreyfus case, he was
found guilty at first. That was in 1899. Dreyfus was eventually retried and
pardoned. He returned to the army with a promotion and died in the 1930s.
Cezanne died of consumption on October 23rd 1906.
Zola, who had fled to England after his trial, returned to
France but died soon after of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was 62.
Years later, his body was moved to the Pantheon, among the
great French men and women of this proud country.
Today they are both seen as innovators or patriots of a
Picasso was so taken with Cezanne that he wanted to be
buried in the shadow of Cezanne’s mountain. That’s exactly where he lies, in
the garden at the entrance to the Chateau of Vauvenargues. Unfortunately, it
is not open to the public. But the museum in Aix is and I highly recommend
College Royal- Now Mignet Lycee
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)