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Once Friends from Aix En Provence Cezanne & Zola:


Professor Arnie Greenberg

Cezanne - click to enlarge
Zola - click to enlarge

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 France.

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 out.

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 articles.

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 linked forever.

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 proud France.

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 it.

Cezanne’s Studio - click to enlarge
Cezanne’s Studio 
College Royal- Now Mignet Lycee - click to enlarge
College Royal- Now Mignet Lycee

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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.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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