In the footsteps of Cezanne

A story about starting a ne life.

  Paolo is an artist; a landscape painter of ability with a technique that resembles, neither the wild alcohol fuelled dribbles of Jackson Pollock nor the drug induced flowing shapes of  Brett Whitely, but the disciplined structured brush strokes of post-impressionist master Paul Cezanne.

     He lives in a small flat in Melbourne’s city centre in an ugly high rise apartment building that has a fake bronze curtain wall and reflective glass panels. The view from his balcony is blocked by another monstrosity also with reflective glass panels, which reflect the glass in Paolo’s building which in turn reflects the glass of the building opposite, which in turn reflects the glass ad infinitum.

    Paolo is approaching middle age and has just come through an acrimonious divorce, the settlement of which has left him cash poor and depressed. He sits listlessly in front of his computer, organising, and reorganising the index of his paintings, then recording paintings sold, paintings lost, and paintings kept. His output and his desire to paint have come to a standstill.

    As a young man he had been much given to ‘en plein air’ painting and sketching. His early collection of landscapes had received favourable reviews at his one and only exhibition; but the art critics soon became tired of his work and called it derivative of Cezanne with the implied accusation of plagiarism

    These snide comments had been quite painful to Paolo as he had never copied any of Cezanne’s paintings or been in the Provence during his travels, or gone to the places Cezanne had observed, sketched, and painted.

    Paolo feels that to keep his sanity and reignite his 

career he has to get away and settle abroad preferable in the Provence, where he can follow in the footsteps of his famous namesake and find out once and for all whether he is the plagiarist the critics have made out. He must escape from this world city with its huge population and its concrete slab structures so admired by politicians and parking attendants.

   What can he do? There must be a way for Paolo to raise funds to leave this depressing place.

   He considers his options!

Beg money from his former wife?

Sell what is left of his collection of paintings?

Sell his flat? 

   Yes! Now it suddenly it dawns on him that he bought his apartment of the plan quite a few years ago and even without the mortgage being fully paid up there must be some cash gained. Possibly enough to allow him to move out? 

   Well after a visit to the estate agent and an appraisal, he finds there is really quite enough to travel and have a tidy sum left over thus he rejoices with a party for one and a bottle of French champagne

    The various formalities having been completed Paolo is on his way to a new and different future. He flies to Lyon with its futuristic Airport and its depressingly ugly surroundings, then by TGV to Aix en Provence where a pleasant surprise awaits. The city of Aix is not quite the way it was 100 years ago when Cezanne lived and worked there, but it still retains a lot of atmosphere from ‘la belle epoque’ and has kept the open spaces that allow a distant view of Monte Sainte-Victoire; the mountain Cezanne made into his own.

   Paolo obtains modest lodging on the outskirts of Aix and

visits Cezanne’s atelier the next day. Then he is away to explore the road to the Mountain following in the footsteps of the master, away from Aix along what is now called the ‘Route Cezanne.’ and reaches Le Thonolet with a clear view of Mont St Victoire. By this time he is totally exhausted and full of admiration for Cezanne who also did all of this on foot and carrying his painting gear.

   The present day Paul decides that he needs a mechanical means of transport and buys a superannuated Vespa scooter, one of the most dangerous forms of transport known to mankind. Fortunately he has enough sense to buy a helmet to go with it and soon becomes known in the neighbourhood as ‘the batty Australian’ and they call him ‘La guêpe’

       Undeterred by this little joke he ventures further and further afield, falling off his scooter only twice, until he finally understands the mountain, the trees, the Vespa, and the landscape.
With some of his carefully hoarded capital he sets up a studio shop on the Route Cezanne in the village of Le Thonolet where he concentrates on pastels and watercolours, as he knows his style in these media is totally his own.

     His work starts to sell amongst the thousands of tourists who flock to the mountain each year, and does particularly well with Australian tourists, who like his accent, his relaxed easy style, and his friendly manner. They see him as a relic from another time and he in turn forgives them for ignoring his work in Australia for so long.

     He now also begins to understand what his critics were driving at when they called his oils derivative, because that was in fact what they were.

    As the seasons progress he views Mont St. Victoire under different conditions and in a different light each day and never tires of the changes. He is now content with his life and his newly found independence and never misses his apartment in the world city, or his former wife, thereby proving once again the James Thurber dictum that; ‘he who flies away from the sphere of his sorrow is here today and here tomorrow.’