I love walking round our hillside, well, its not really “our” hillside, just the one behind where we live. I’ve mentioned it before, the cone of a former volcano with a chapel right at the top which can be seen for miles around, including from the A9 autoroute a few kilometres distant. In past years when we used to come on holiday here I would point to the chapel excitedly, marvelling at its situation on the one hand (who would ever climb up there?) and on the other by the sheer beauty of the scene, with the warm peachy yellow building of the church surrounded by a forest of green trees standing out against a perfect blue sky. From the path that winds round the hillside the view is of farmland, of fields of wheat and vines with an isolated farmhouse or two.
Today I was reminded of some of Cézanne’s paintings of the countryside near Aix-en-Provence, 80 kilometres from here. John Rewald writes in “Cézanne a biography” (1986)
“What was most precious was the solitude which was indispensable to him, and which was filled with memories linked to the rhythm of the seasons, the bare branches, forming complicated designs across the sky swept by the wind of winter, the trees cloaked in a tender green veil in the springtime, the stillness of the vibrant heat accentuated by the incessant stridulations of the cicadas in summer, the bunches of violet grapes on a background of rustling dead leaves in autumn.”
At the moment I am short of canvases, but like Cézanne, I feel the countryside here offers everything, is an endless source of inspiration.
From the age of 15 I dreamed of living in France even though I had never been there, inspired perhaps by pictures of a storybook countryside full of chateaux and markets and by my father’s enthusiasm of the kindness of the French people he had met when in hospital in Amiens during the First World War. Years later, married and with children my family and I would go over to France on holiday every Summer, always to campsites, and during the rest of the year I would produce paintings as often as time allowed based on holiday snapshots and sketches. I guess through painting I was reliving the magic of the holidays, the bright sunlight and the vivid colours that I missed so much back in rainy England.
And now that I have retired I have at long last managed to make the move, and in spite of existing on a shoestring and difficulties in getting established, living in France is every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped for. To begin with we were staying in a holiday cottage in the Vaucluse, in an area known as the Luberon. The cottage was surrounded by fields of lavender, vineyards and orchards, and from the garden the view was of the hilltop villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste, which face one another on opposite slopes of the Luberon mountain range. However, the cottage was rented out over the summer months and so we needed to find a more permanent home.
This proved to be very difficult. The South, or ‘Midi’ as it is called, is very expensive and very sought after, making it difficult for someone in a slightly unusual situation and with limited funds. However, we eventually found a very understanding landlord with a lovely apartment and a wonderful view overlooking the small Var town of Vidauban. The Var is relatively undeveloped and unspoilt, and encompasses a long sandy coastline on the Mediterranean which is backed by the thickly wooded mountain range of the Maures, as well as rivers and gorges inland and a wealth of ancient villages. Vidauban itself is in the heart of a wine growing region and is surrounded by hills of either oak or scented pine. Our appartment, which overlooks the town, is built on the lower slopes of a rocky spur, the cone of an ancient volcano, at the top of which is the Chapel of Sainte Brigitte. We moved in during July to what feels like an artist’s dream!