Outdoor sketch – Influence of Cezanne

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.Plein air sketch in ProvenceCharcoal outline of farm in Provence

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.

Sous BoisPaul Cézanne Golf de Marseille vue de l'Estaque

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Painting of Vidauban, Provence

I’m happy to share with WordPress my painting of Vidauban which I finished today, having been unable to work on it yesterday due to poor light caused by a day of heavy rain.            I really enjoyed creating this and when the paint is dry I will add it to my online gallery.Landscape Painting of Vidauban village, ProvenceLandscape Painting of Vidauban village, ProvenceLandscape Painting of Vidauban village, ProvenceLandscape Painting of Vidauban village, ProvenceLandscape Painting of Vidauban village, Provence

 

Painting in Progress

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. Initial drawing of Vidauban, ProvencePainting in Progress of Vidauban, Provence

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.”

View of Vidauban, ProvenceView from Terrace to Vidauban, Provence

One Lovely Blog Award

Thank you Global from Home for nominating French Paintings for the ‘One Lovely Blog’ award. I am honoured that you chose me as I am very new to blogging. I am afraid I have recently been preoccupied, but I would now like in turn to pass on the award to other bloggers whose posts I have found interesting.

Following the rules of accepting the award, here are 7 things you might not know about me:

1. I love animals – and so do my children. At one time we had 16 guinea pigs, 2 cats, 1 dog, 1 rabbit, 1 hamster, 2 gerbils and 1 lizard.

 2. My favourite meal is baguette, butter, and cheese. Just as well we moved to France!

3. As we can’t afford a car, I spend over an hour a day walking to the boulangerie to buy the baguette – no light undertaking in temperatures well above 30 degrees.

4. My three children are all gifted dancers (two of them went on to professional training as ballet dancers). Unfortunately however all three developed chronic fatigue syndrome whilst still in their teens putting an end to their childhood dreams. I think this illness has got to have a strong genetic component.

5. I love sunshine and bright colours, and when the sky is cloudy I feel miserable. No matter what problems there are, they never seem quite as bad if the sun is shining.

6. Some of the happiest times in my life have been when I was working with people with learning disabilities. I found them to be generally very warm hearted and affectionate and I got back far more than I gave.

 7. Finding seven things to say about myself has proved incredibly difficult. Much easier to write about places or painting.

Painting of Red Vines in France

And here are some others blogs I highly recommend having a look at:

reading interrupted – Sharing the joy of reading with some lovely photography

Appropriately Frayed – Thought provoking writing and highly original photography

Cancerkillingrecipe – Moving account of one person’s fight against cancer

Rowena Clarke Photography –  There are some beautiful photos of France

This American Adventuress – Travels across Europe and America

art does matter – Insightful analysis of some contemporary art

Psittacismes – Comments on literature written in English and French

Travel with Kat – Descriptive account of places visited and beautiful photography

Travel Photo Media – Captures the essence of places around the world

Becoming Madame – Interesting insights by an American lady living in Paris

Cristian Mihai – Reflections on the process of writing and being an author

Inspiration from Provence and Cezanne

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.View across vineyard to Chapelle Sainte BrigitteView from Chapelle Sainte BrigitteHillside path - ProvencePines Provence

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. Paul Cézanne - La montagne Sainte-Victoire, vue de Bellevue

Bormes les Mimosas

Bormes les Mimosas

One of my favourite place to visit in the Var department of Provence is the beautiful little hilltop village of Bormes les Mimosas. The steep old streets, many with steps, are lined with pastel coloured houses in shades of pink, cream and terracotta, overflowing with tubs and baskets of flowers. The main street , pedestrianised, is full of enticing little shops selling jewellery, clothes, bags, antique style items for the home, precious stones and an assortment of local crafts. The main road which skirts the village, never overly busy unlike on the coast only a few kilometres distant,  is bordered by magnificent tall palm trees and pavement cafes, from which there is a wonderful view of the Mediterranean.Cafe with a view over the village of Bormes les MimosasOld street in Bormes les MimosasGift Shop in Bormes les Mimosas

I think what makes Bormes special for me is the combination of colours, from the orange and cream of the buildings to the dark green of the palms and cypresses, from the bright sparkling blue of the Mediterranean to the duskier blue greens of olives. vines, and chestnut trees on the surrounding hillsides.Flowers lining the streets of BormesStreet corner in Bormes les MimosasFrench village houses, Bormes les MimosasEnjoying a glass of wine in Bormes les MimosasColourful house in Bormes les MimosasDecorative shop sign in Bormes les Mimosas

My painting of Bormes – www.french-paintings.com/#!Bormes%20les%20Mimosas/c11hw

French Village Fête

Yesterday was a fête day in Vidauban, celebrating the liberation of the town by the Americans on 16th August 1944 following occupation by the Italians and then the Germans during the Second World War. A parade of old military vehicles took place in the afternoon, followed by commemorative services at different spots around the town, and the handing out of flags and sweets to children. In the evening a “grand bal” took place in the central square in front of the mairie. The cafés and restaurants surrounding the square were thronged with people eating and drinking, whilst on the temporary stage a band of 7 musicians and 4 singers performed music spanning the decades. A stall, gay with pink awning, was selling candy floss and brightly coloured sweets to queues of children, in the centre of the square people were dancing; old men and women, families, teenagers, children, couples. Everyone moved or swayed to the music, with a rhythm that seems to come naturally to most French people. Particularly popular as always at these occasions was that old favourite, the Madison. Vidauban party at nightVidauban at night

On my way down to the bal I walked past a boules court, floodlit and full of players. The lamps seemed to be surrounded by halos, and I was reminded of the Van Gogh painting “Starry Night over the Rhone”. Van Gogh was fascinated by the night sky and the effects of light at night and he preferred to paint them out-of-doors under gas lamp, which was new to that era. I hope to attempt these subjects myself, at some point in the future.  Van Gogh - Starry Night Over the Rhone

 

Twilight for the grape harvest?

Today has been difficult.

The sun is setting, a glowing red ball surrounded by a halo of soft pink, silhouetting the pines whose dark green outlines stand sentinel on the crest of the hill. In the valley the inhabitants of Vidauban are winding down from the activity of the day. Some are sitting on their terraces having an evening meal, others are enjoying an aperitif in the cafés down in the square. The scene is very peaceful, very calm. Setting Sun in the Var

It’s not so calm in our apartment. After numerous attempts my two sons have at last been offered jobs in the grape harvest. The only problem is, the château where they would be working turned out today to be about 20 kilometres away, down winding country lanes called chemins which thread through vineyard after vineyard interspersed with thickets of pine trees. So now we have the enormous problem of desperately needing the money the grape harvest work would bring, but not being able to afford transport of any kind to get there. The château is too isolated to be near any bus route and an old second hand car would cost around € 500 but even that is beyond us. Although one of my son’s has ridden bikes and scooters in England, in France you need a French license to do so. At the moment the problem sadly seems insurmountable. I do wish I had a family to fall back on, but being an only child of long deceased parents, I do not.

Vines and grapesProvencal Farm with vineyard

On a brighter note, however, I do feel things will work out sometime eventually. In spite of the difficult times I’ve had in life (and there have been quite a few) in the end situations have resolved themselves.

The sky is still red and the lights are twinkling now in the village. It is very beautiful and I am very fortunate to be able to experience it.

Red Sky over Vidauban, Var

Painting the Olive Tree

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.

Painting of Olive Tree in ProvenceDrawing Plein Air in ProvencePalette, paints and palette knifesImage of olive tree in ProvenceClose up photo of olive on olive tree

Life without a car in rural France

At the moment we do not have a car and so we are having to make our way around on foot and by bus. This feels exhausting in the heat of August, especially carrying 4 litres of milk daily uphill from our nearest Intermarché supermarket (a chore we usually reserve for early evening when the sun is just starting to go down a little).

However, when on the bus you do see more of the countryside than in a car and you can get to meet people this way. I have a favourite bus driver, a lady with fair hair and huge sunglasses who is extremely chatty. When she is driving I make a point of sitting in the front seat, and so far we have discussed the weather (always sunny), electricity bills (she only had her heating on for 3 weeks last winter), house renting, cars, washing machines, furniture, neighbours (her’s) and so on. She drives the same route every day – between Vidauban, where we live, and Le Muy, where our bank is, a distance of about 12 kilometres. As I usually make the trip about once a week, we have got to know each other quite well and she sends a cheery wave when driving past if I am on foot.

Bus stop in Vidauban

 

Bus to Le Muy from Vidauban

Another plus of not having a car is not being caught up in traffic jams! Vidauban itself is a quiet little town, but the A9 motorway stretching from the Italian to the Spanish border is just a few kilometres away. In August it can often reach a standstill (although not as often as a few years ago now that France has prohibited the driving of lorries on motorways at the weekends during the summer holidays). Anyway, the other evening we were making our way back from Intermarché as usual, laden with carrier bags, and were surprised to see our route through the pink and cream housing estates, with colourful gardens of purple and red bougainvillaea ,clogged up with cars crawling along at a snail’s pace. We found ourselves constantly being beckoned over by the anxious occupants, asking where they were and “how long did the queue stretch for” (which was right through the town). It transpired that there had been either a fire or a major accident on the motorway – accounts varied.  But the funniest question, asked by a middle aged French lady on holiday, which had us laughing all the way home thereby considerably the lightening the load of the shopping bags, was “Have we arrived at Nice now?”… Nice only being the 5th largest city in France and some 100 kilometres distant!

Route Home in Vidauban

 

View to Chapelle Sainte Brigitte, Vidauban