Monday, 16 October 2017

Bibemus Quarry and the Alfred Sisley Exhibition in Aix-en-Provence, 26th October 2017

The Garden Group usually holds a pot luck lunch instead of a meeting or visit to mark the start of another club year and the close of a busy summer of visitors and is a great opportunity to catch up with news and views.   However, since the quarry closes on 30th September and the Sisley exhibition closes on 15th October lunch has been moved in October and we cross with fingers crossed for clement weather.

The September 2017 visit was not entirely horticultural in subject, leaning heavily towards the artistic and we set off for Aix-en-Provence at the crack of dawn to catch the bus up to the Carriere de Bibemus, the tranquil quarry where Cezanne painted 11 oils and 16 watercolours.  

The weather predicted for 26th September varied from wall-to-wall sunshine to ceiling-to-floor rain and settled on warm sunshine, some cloud and a light breeze – perfect for walking round the peaceful and beautiful quarry which is now a protected area since 2006.

Our guide was Dutch and, although the tour was booked as French speaking, we were indulged and the tour was in English by dint of the fact that there was an overwhelming majority of Brits, four Dutch, three Germans and just one French (“. . . .  and a partridge in a pear tree”] !

The seven hectare\17 acre sandstone quarry was, in another age, covered by the sea and for this reason the short-lived sand quarry closed after seven years (containing too much salt for the construction industry).  In Cezanne's day the quarry would have had less vegetation and some of the views painted by Cezanne were slightly obscured by the taller trees.   Decked viewing platforms had been built where Cezanne had painted a particular picture, with a coloured print of the picture set into the decking.

We passed the cabanon Cezanne rented from 1895 to 1904, ten years after the quarry ceased to be worked (unfortunately we were not shown inside as this is a separate tour].   He kept his painting materials here and frequently stayed there to avoid travelling to the quarry from Aix.

A larger stone house nearby has been rented for over 3O years by James Campbell, a Canadian sculptor, but where earlier he lived there all year (it has no electricity or water] he now winters elsewhere as it is too cold.   He was working on his sculptures (very modern] outside in the sun, a tall slim man in his 8Os in his jeans, check shirt and battered hat – applying his art form as Cezanne would have done in the peaceful sunshine

Much of the rock has been worked and tall retangular or square shapes which are narrower at the base which gives a precarious look but the reason for this was because the fee for extracting stone was calculated on the square meterage of the base of the rock.

Two trees whose root formation was clearly visible as though it had been sliced in half vertically and growing in rock.   Oh that my plants would adopt this modus operandi so that I don’t have to pickaxe out rocks (why is there always a rock where I want to plant a shrub?)

  • The quarry is closed in winter.
  • Visitors must book online well in advance as tickets cannot be purchased on the day from the bus driver as the tour numbers are limited to 2O.
  • Visitors can either park in the dedicated carpark and take a mini bus to the quarry or drive direct to the quarry (limited parking)
  • The public toilet at the dedicated car park is primitive (a Turkish squat), dirty, malodorous and may not have toilet paper.

We all decided to lunch in Cafe Caumont at the Hotel du Caumont art centre, 3 rue Joseph Cabassol, in the Mazarin Quarter of Aix-en-Provence (plan to be in the queue well before noon as it is not possible to book a table in advance) before viewing the wonderful exhibition of Alfred Sisley’s paintings.   

And a big thank you to Mavis McQuade for her inspired suggestion for these two visits.   The art centre hosts two exhibitions a year, allotting five months for each exhibition and a ticket to whatever exhibition gives access to the restaurant, gift shop and the beautifully renovated building and garden (see the link to the restoration here):

and a quick video tour of the historic interior of the house, and garden which were the subject of an extensive refurbishment in 2013:

With the incredible restoration of the plasterwork and its re-guilding, the exquisite furniture and objets it was surprising to find yet again (as in the restored Chateau d’Ansuis) that the curtains were not interlined and the outside edge machined instead of hand-sewn!

I am not equipped to comment knowledgeably on Sisley’s paintings and give a link to a video (in French):

Garden Hotel Caumont

  • Book a ticket on line for a timed entrance if you will be visiting at the weekend or the exhibition closes shortly
  • Queue early for lunch as tables cannot be booked in advance or arrive after the first sitting
  • Be sure to allow 30 minutes to see the documentary film on Cezanne
Written by Sue Spence with photos by Mavis McQuade and the Web.

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