Cezanne, Delacroix, Monet, Renoir, Picasso: In the Artists' Studios

Updated: May 7

Sunrise in my studio

Well, here's a picture of my studio, or at least a part of it. It is a good way to use a guest bedroom. I'm not the only artist to have a home studio mind you. Delacroix and Renoir had areas in their homes that were their studios. Monet's studio was on the same property as his home. Picasso seemed to turn whole houses into studios. He'd just lock up and move elsewhere when the house was full of art. People often talk about creative energy, generally in amorphous terms beyond concrete definition. One way to get a sense of it is to visit an artist's studio. Anywhere someone is creating on a consistent basis has that special vibe. However, I have noticed that it is heightened when the studio belonged to a famous artist.

I did not know what to expect when I climbed the hill on the edge of Aix-en-Provence to reach Paul Cezanne's studio. What I remembered as I trudged uphill was that Cezanne got thoroughly soaked in a rainstorm one evening as he made his way there, caught pneumonia, and died. I was thankful that it was not raining and that the studio is much closer into Aix now than it was in Cezanne's day.

When I arrived at what looked like a little house, completely surrounded by what appeared to be a wild garden, I saw a bicycle propped against the side of the building, the caretaker's no doubt. It seemed a typically French touch, and a wise form of transport, making his trip a lot shorter in duration than mine.

Inside things had been kept as the artist had them. Downstairs is a small kitchen, very practical for long painting sessions. The upstairs only holds a few people, in fact, only 10 visitors are allowed at one time. The windows are large, letting in an indirect light filtered somewhat by the garden's trees. Most interesting were the gray walls. It seems he had them painted in this neutral gray as it allows for the colors in the paintings to stand out. You will notice that museums often use similar tones of gray, sometimes quite dark, when showing colorful work. It seemed a good place for solitude, quite pleasant, and charming really. Afterward, I walked in the garden which seemed so wild, but upon careful observation, I saw it was carefully controlled, with branches spliced together to create a sense of organic confusion.

I had to climb another hill to get to the home and studio of Pierre Auguste Renoir. It was a warm, sunny day in January, with the waters of the Mediterranean sparkling. The house and its surrounding gardens were lovely and inviting. I anticipated a leisurely visit inside the house where I could look at the art and soak in the ambiance. As it turned out, I could only stand it for 30 minutes. I did not know much of Renoir's life at that point, so I was particularly shocked by the mean, fusty feeling of that house. It was anything but pleasant and seemed filled with bitterness. The only place where that feeling lifted was the studio. It was not very elaborate, with not much to let you see how he had kept it. Even so, the place where he painted seemed to alleviate the oppressiveness of the house. I later learned that Renoir suffered terribly from rheumatoid arthritis in the last 20 years of his life when he lived in Cagnes, but he painted even when in great pain and confined to a wheelchair. Being in that studio, one understands that while painting, Renoir's mind was not on the pain. I must say, though, I was glad to go outside again, where I sat on a bench under a tree looking at the sea down below and letting the breeze blow away the sadness of that house.

Now, people talk about Monet's gardens at Giverny, and they are indeed lovely. However,

the kitchen in blue with its contrasting copper pots and the bright, cheery, yellow dining room are attractions all their own. Everything is spacious, airy, and very comfortable even though completely 19th century. Well, not exactly, for his studio, though built in the 1890s, is a rather indistinct modern structure, now holding a gift shop. Huge photos are there of Claude Monet painting the enormous Nymphea paintings, the ponds of water lilies, which he gifted to the French Republic after the first World War and which are now in Paris in the Orangerie. One gets the sense of him in his gardens, another great gift, where artists may get special passes to go painting.

Monet had another studio and an unique one. This was his Studio Boat, which allowed him to be on the water as he painted its effects on light. It seems that during the years when he lived in Argenteuil, he found the town becoming increasingly industrialized and sought a way to be more in nature. With the aid of Gustave Caillebotte, a wealthy boat enthusiast (and artist), a boat was found and the Studio Boat was created.

One of my former hometowns is Antibes, and there after World War II, Pablo Picasso came with his new love, Françoise Gilot. He used the old Grimaldi Chateau, which sits in Vieil Antibes (old town) overlooking the sea. Though Picasso moved on elsewhere on the Riviera, the few months he spent in Antibes allowed him to work furiously, as though the years he'd spent in Paris during the Occupation had pent up his energies. The old chateau was partially a museum, and Picasso, in honor of the productive time he spent there, gave all the works he created there to the museum so people would have to come to Antibes to see them. That was a fine gesture, though I would say Antibes is worth a trip just for itself.

The Picasso Museum also has the best view of the Mediterranean. It is higher than the rampart walls that line the street below and drop off straight down to the water. The tower above is called the Sarrasin Tower, as it was where look outs in the middle ages would stand watching for pirates from North Africa. Now you can stand on the terrace and look out to sea while surrounded by sculptures by Giacometti.

The old Grimaldi Chateau, now the Picasso Museum in Antibes, France