For the past couple of days I have been working on the view of Vidauban from our terrace. It is a wonderful view, with the church cradled in the middle of the village which is surrounded by hills. In the background are distant mountains, their colours ranging from green blue to blue to violet depending on the light. I am looking forward to painting this scene many times at different times of day and in different seasons.
This particular painting is of Vidauban mid-morning. The sun has warmed up the buildings and is catching the tree tops on the hillsides. The predominant colours are cream, terracotta, blue and greens. Unusually for me I painted the canvas with an undercoat of terracotta to cover up an earlier composition. (I had run out of canvases – this was the only one available.) However, I think the undercoat works well in contrasting with the greens. I struggled a bit to begin with in the placing of the colours and I felt rather down but I think they are beginning to come together now. If a painting doesn’t seem to be working I do get very depressed about it and doubt my ability even more than usual. However, I am reminded of Van Gogh’s words:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘I cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
Today I finished a painting of a lovely old olive tree growing on the hillside behind us. I very much enjoyed doing this painting as I love olive trees which for me symbolise Provence. I tackled the leaves in a slightly different way to usual, painting them individually in shades of silvery blue, rather than in my usual rather impressionistic loose manner. During the course of the painting I came across the following passage written by Van Gogh in a letter to this brother Theo, in which he describes very eloquently the changing colours of the olive trees across the seasons.
“The effect of daylight and the sky means there are endless subjects to be found in olive trees. For myself I look for the contrasting effects in the foliage, which changes with the tones of the sky. At times, when the tree bares its pale blossoms and big blue flies, emerald fruit beetles and cicadas in great numbers fly about, everything is immersed in pure blue. Then, as the bronzer foliage takes on more mature tones, the sky is radiant and streaked with green and orange, and then again, further into autumn, the leaves take on violet tones something of the colour of a ripe fig, and this violet effect manifests itself most fully with the contrast of the large, whitening sun within its pale halo of light lemon. Sometimes, too, after a shower I’ve seen the whole sky pink and orange, which gave an exquisite value and colouring to the silvery grey-greens. And among all this were women, also pink, who were gathering the fruit.”
Whilst obviously no Van Gogh, I feel very happy that I too am able to experience the changing seasons of Provence and record in paint my impressions. One cloud on the horizon at present however, is that I cannot afford to buy more canvases and so will have to content myself with sketches in the meantime.
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!