6 Mar 2012

Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence

I used to go regularly to Aix-en-Provence and its surrounding area, back in the 1960's and 1970's. At that time I found Aix to be a beautiful and even inspiring city, sometimes a bit frayed around the edges, but full of light and joy. Going back there now is bit of a let-down, with one notable exception which is the main subject of this article. Of course Aix, as a city linked to art, is strongly linked to one of its natives and former residents, Paul Cézanne. Also, in a way, to Picasso, one of whose many houses was on the more gently sloping side of the Mont St. Victoire (see below: the painting being by Cézanne).

Aix comes over to me today as a bit of a let-down on account of its horribly encroaching urban sprawl, which has totally swamped the old town, turning it into a walkabout zone for thousands of people whose sole interest seems to be clothing shops. A huge surge in local population is behind this, but also, I supect, some poor local political management. Of course the old buildings are still there and have their charm. The light has not changed. But it is now surrounded by motorways and thousands of nasty suburban "villas", even nastier "commercial zones" and all the visual crap that goes with this. But let's not get bogged-down in stupid nosatlgia however because there is at least one very good thing about comtemporary Aix-en-Provence: the Granet museum (musée Granet).

This, believe it or not, I remember as harbouring a dingy and dark little collection up a dingy and dark little back street. After what must have been considerable work the Musée Granet is now a delightful, airy place, with not too many people in it (and least on the day I went there, which was a Saturday in February) and a fantastic collection of work to admire. For the next 15 years it will be harbouring the Planque collection from Switzerland, whose range of impressionist and post-impressionist work includes paintings by Picasso, Klee, de Staël, Bissière, Dubuffet, Braque, Dufy and many others.

It also has a few Cézannes (Aix was his home town) although many of these are often away on loan to various places around the world, and a very good set of work loaned by the French National collections, many of them from a donation made by the Meyer family. These include a wonderful series of both sculptures and paintings by Giacometti.

a Cézanne that you may or may not see at Granet

One of the joys of this museum is that its rooms are not too big, yet big enough to hang a good group of paintings that make sense together.

François-Marius Granet, who gave his name to the museum, was a local 18/19th century painter of modest but honest talent, as this landscape below shows.

He was, as many, portrayed by Ingres, which I guess shows that he had some fame in his day (see below). He certaonly manged to acquire a large house in the 18th century part of Aix.

Another work by Ingres is the one below, of Jupiter and Thetis, in which I find that Thetis looks like she is made of marshmallow and Jupiter is, well, very jupitorial (just tickle my beard).

If you think that you might just not go out of your way to see a couple of paintings by Ingres, rest assured, there is much more, including a wonderful small self-portrait by Rembrandt from about 1659 (see below) and other interesting stuff including some rather strange pictures of goats by another local painter called Loubet.

The Planque collection alone makes a visit to Aix worthwhile, but there are things in the Musée Granet for all tastes. I left the scupture and archaeological section for another time, and found the temporary exhibition  by an illustrator named Philippe Favier uninterestingly obsessional. 2 hours is about all I can usually take in any museum, and these were well filled here.