I have started planning my next painting which will be on a larger canvas and is going to be of a view near here looking down on a farm surrounded by fields and vineyards with distant hills. Here is my initial charcoal outline on the canvas.
I find I am considerably influenced by Cezanne at the moment, probably because he painted many scenes of the countryside around his home at Aix en Provence, not too far away from my local village. I particularly like his studies of trees, such as Le Grand Pin and Sous Bois and I also admire his paintings of the Mediterranean at L’ Estaque, near Marseille. In these paintings of the sea he places the line of the horizon high on the canvas, thus making it recede into the distance, whilst adopting a warm palette of colours for the buildings in the foreground.
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.
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.