Solid Granet: Old Masters in Aix-en-Provence

Granet Museum, Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, France

It’s not surprising that the smart, prosperous town of Aix-en-Provence has a major art gallery – especially considering the fact that two major artists were born here.

Granet Museum, Aix-en-Provence, France

Before the start of the French Revolution, the town hall housed a collection of historical and archaeological objects and in 1821, a cabinet of curiosities belonging to the local parliament’s president, Fauris de Saint-Vincens, also went on display in the same location.  The museum was then transferred to the former priory of the Order of Malta in 1838, and the building underwent many changes to accommodate the collections, most recently in 2006.

The space is nice and smart and is evidently popular – I don’t know the last time I had to queue for more than a minute to get a ticket.  The draw for most visitors is doubtless the modern art, but I had high hopes for their older works.

Unexpectedly, there is an interesting group of Celtic sculptures on display.  What’s preserved shows the admirable skills of the artists who created the figures, with the details such as jewellery particularly well done.  The figures are similar to those on display in Nîmes, Lattes and Marseille, but there are more of them and actually in some ways the quality is better than in the other sites.  Sister-Chickpea was taken by the tender way that one of the fragments showed a hand placed on the hair of a man – before she realised that he was about to get his head lobbed off.  Ah, the Celts!

The collection of the Granet is actually quite small.  There are some attractive paintings to see, and there are some which are questionable (that ain’t no way a Rembrandt) but it makes for a pleasant, and at times educational visit.

The highlight for me was the very fine portrait by Rigaud of a person depicted as the character of the shepherd Céladon from Honoré d’Urfé’s novel Astrée.  Admittedly, the costume is a little funny – with a dandyish man holding a musette (a type of bagpipe) – but the real joy comes in finding out about the man depicted.

It’s of local man Gaspard de Gueidan, who came from cattle merchant stock and through savvy dealing managed to get himself a marquisate.  With this achievement under his belt, he set about changing his entire history.  His background being as unillustrious as it was, it needed taking care of – so he invented ancestors and published a book (under a pseudonym) proving his now rather more illustrious lineage.  He also had a mausoleum built in 1757 for Guillaume de Gueidan, the mythical founder of the family in 1208.  Unsurprisingly, there were several songs circulating in the 1760s which mocked his vanity and pretensions.  What’s surprised me, though, is the fact that there isn’t a great deal out there about this awesome 18th-century stereotype – nothing in English and nothing really in French either, that I could find.  He deserves to have a biography written about him, people.  If you want to find out more, I found this article which talks about him and the painting: ww.core.ac.uk

If you are a fan of the post-Revolutionary art of France, then you’ll be pleased with the selection on display.  There is a room filled with the paintings of local boy, François-Marius Granet. Granet became a pupil of David in Paris and spent seventeen years in Rome, a city he kept returning to until he retired to his birth-town a year before his death.  He left the greater part of his fortune and his collections to Aix and in 1949, the museum was renamed after him to mark the centenary of his death.

There is the famous portrait of Granet by Ingres in the museum, which was a bit of a ‘oh, it’s him!’ moment for me.  Also on display is Ingres’ hideous monstrosity ‘Jupiter and Thetis’ in all its terrifying glory.

Another local boy, Paul Cézanne, is evidently a draw for a lot of the people who come to Aix – those who aren’t coming for the calissons, that is.  He was born in the town and loved it so much he returned and painted the local landscape that he clearly adored.  You’ll find a selection of his works on display at the Granet and if you’re real fans, you’ll be pleased to know his studio is open to the public.  Although I admire his passion, I find Cézanne’s colours insipid, and I wondered if by coming to the area he painted, and seeing the light first-hand, as it were, whether I would appreciate what he was trying to achieve.  I still don’t connect with him but it was nice seeing his paint-boxes.

Modern artists, apart from Cézanne, are also well represented – not to my taste, but I did like the two Picassos, painted from the same spot, but with different weather conditions.

There is also a collection of statues on show that are largely 19th century.

So In Summary

For me, this wasn’t the most exciting art gallery in France – or even in Provence.  Still, it was interesting to see some famous paintings – like the Ingres’ portrait of Granet, and I was pleased to learn about the fabulous Gueidan.  It’s all a matter of taste.

Further Information

The museum has a good website which is available in English:  www.museegranet-aixenprovence.fr

The ticket you purchase at the museum is also valid for the nearby Granet XX, which houses the Planque collection of 20th century art.

When I visited, there was an exhibition called ‘Fabienne Verdier in Cézanne Country’ which will be running until the 5th January 2020.  Her works are influenced by the 10 years she spent in China, and the area around Aix-en-Provence.

How To Get There

Aix-en-Provence is a small town and it’s an easy walk to the museum from the local bus station.  For details on how to get to the town itself from Marseille, please click through to my post here.

 

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