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Art and Literature in Provence

“When you’re born there, it’s hopeless, nothing else is good enough.” Few could encapsulate the allure of Provence quite like one of its most famous sons, Paul Cezanne. Born in Aix-en-Provence, the artist was inextricably linked to the region of his birth, and would come to epitomise the relationship the region was able to forge with artists, writers, and poets for centuries. The Provençal countryside has influenced countless paeans to its vibrant landscapes, both in paint and in prose, and as such has a rich artistic heritage waiting to be uncovered.

Visions of colour

Some of history’s most revered artists have, at one time, made Provence their home, drawing inspiration from the fields of lavender, the verdant countryside, and the serenity of the surroundings. Vincent van Gogh spent two years in Arles and Saint-Remy, crafting a collection of iconic works including Starry Night during his period of convalescence at the asylum of St. Paul de Mausole. Pablo Picasso, meanwhile, favoured the Cote d’Azur, spending each summer for 20 years there, and ultimately taking up residence in the area.

As inspiring as the coast would be for many, perhaps the most prestigious area of artistic interest is the hilltop commune of Vence. With an open-air gallery of contemporary, modern, fringe, and classical works, Vence has been a refuge for many artists over the years, welcoming such illustrious names as famed modernist and impressionist, Henri Matisse. Artists continue to flock to Vence each year, seeking inspiration from its beautiful surroundings and the paintings and sculptures displayed here.

Provence in prose

Capturing the essence of Provençal life has not been the sole preserve of painters and sculptors, with literary giants emerging from the region and talented visitors composing works that pay homage to its diversity, culture and heritage. Such renowned writers as Alphonse Daudet and Marcel Pagnol, also known for his filmmaking, were natives of Provence, and presented their stories on life in southern France to international audiences.

Reaching further into the past unveils a heritage of Occitan literature that has been revered by artists and scholars alike. The poetry of William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, marked the early growth of literature in the area, a renaissance of which would be led by another notable son of Provence, Nobel Prize Winner Frédéric Mistral, some eight centuries later.

Inspiration and artistry

Whether seeking solitude and isolation among the sedate countryside, or absorbing the cultures and traditions of the towns and villages of the French Riviera, the diverse regions of Provence have prompted artists of all disciplines to deliver works of art that have shaped movements and changed the world. Discover the compelling landscapes that have inspired so many masterpieces and marvel at the artistry that nature itself has bestowed upon the region. 

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