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Picasso in Provence

"I bought Cezanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire," Picasso boasted. "Which one?" responded his art dealer, thinking of the many canvases covered in the blocky image of that mountain. "The vrai, the real one," he answered. The influence that Cezanne's work held over Picasso is the subject of this summer's exhibition at the Musee Granet in Aix en Provence. Picasso who possessed a vast collection of art from Monet to Modigliani held many of Cezanne's oeuvres on a pedestal. He knew Cezanne's work and style as he knew his own and when in doubt he was called upon to authenticate Cezanne's canvases.

It is said that Cezanne is the grandfather of cubism. The idea that everything can be seen as cubes, cones and spheres his credo. From this vision analytical cubism began to develop on Picasso's canvases where subjects were seen from several perspectives as in Cezanne's still life paintings and portraits.

In the exposition PICASSO-CEZANNE Picasso's work hangs side by side with the very pieces in which he found such inspiration: bowls of apples, bathers and smokers. While influenced, he never tried to replicate Cezanne's work as he had others, turning his back on the mountain he possessed to paint Vauvenargues, the town below instead. His stylized interpretations of grand masters were showcased earlier this year in the exhibit Picasso et les Maitres that hung in Paris' Grand Palais.

The highlight of the exposition at the Granet is the last room devoted to portraits of Jacqueline, his third and last wife 45 years his junior. She becomes a faceted mask of brush strokes in a rainbow of colors. Douglas Duncan's photography presented upstairs invites you into Picasso's chateau as his gallery of paintings are hung, the rare glimpse granted to a friend. We see his world from a similar window in the montage of video footage presented at the chateau accompanied by a dream-like soundtrack of bells and strings.

In collaboration with the museum exhibit, Jacqueline's daughter, the current proprietor of their Provencal residence, has opened the chateau to the public for guided tours. Approach the gates of the Chateau de Vauvenargues and a sign reads, "Not open for public visits. Please do not insist. The museum is in Paris." Constructed in the 17th century it is nearly empty but the bones of the artist's three years spent there remain in the form of relics and sculptures scattered throughout the garden and interior.
The imposing buffet piece in the dining room was subject to more than a handful of Picasso's paintings. Chairs, caned wooden frames, benches and Jacqueline's rocking chair in the corner were stiff per request, in the hopes that company wouldn't overstay their welcome.

Inside the tomb-like medieval part of the castle, walls door-widths thick, is an altar of orchids and mums. As Picasso passed in the winter, he waited inside for a week before the ground thawed and he could be laid to rest.

The climb up to the artist's atelier and bedroom is via the central staircase. Wrapping around itself it occupies a quarter of the castle's living space. Though the lighting was not ideal, Picasso embraced the night owl of his Spanish nature and worked late into the evening by lamplight. Off the master bedroom a garden themed mural adorns the wall behind the bathtub.

Out in the garden, looked after by Mont Sainte-Victoire sleeps Picasso with Jacqueline alongside. She took her own life with a bullet after surviving him 13 years. An impregnated statue is perched atop the grassy bed of their grave.

Tickets, on sale every day, are available down the street from the museum for $10 a piece. Get in line before the ticket office opens at 8:30 am if you want to visit the chateau. The exhibition will finish the end of September so arrive before then if you want a peek inside.

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