Unknown Cézanne Painting Found In The Artist's Childhood Home

No one knew about the mural’s existence until recently, when contractors uncovered it under layers of wallpaper and plaster in the artist’s family home. 

The art world has gained a new understanding of renowned Post-Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne, even more than a century after the artist died in 1906. In August 2023, contractors had discovered a mysterious mural beneath layers of wallpaper and plaster while restoring the Grand Salon of the artist’s childhood home in Aix-en-Provence, France, reports Sarah Belmont of The Art Newspaper. However, it wasn’t until recently that the town’s local authorities officially announced that it was a work by their very own Cézanne, after a small group of experts examined the piece in September 2023, writes Chloe Veltman of NPR

Contractors discovered the mural inside the Grand Salon of Cézanne’s childhood home, Bastide du Jas de Bouffan
Contractors discovered the mural inside the Grand Salon of Cézanne’s childhood home, Bastide du Jas de Bouffan/Photo from the Aix ma Ville Facebook

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A Maritime Scene

The work, which measures around 64 square feet according to Adam Schrader of Artnet, wasn’t included in the art historian John Rewald’s 1996 catalog raisonné of the artist. As viewers can see from photos of the piece, it’s not in the best condition, as it’s missing a large chunk at the center. That said, experts could still see its pale blue sky, the edifices at the sides of the composition, and the masts and banners of ships, which indicate a harbor scene. Hence, it has taken on the name “Entrée du port” [“Entrance to the Port”], reports Veltman for NPR

“Entrée du port” has sustained considerable damage over the years
Entrée du port” has sustained considerable damage over the years/Photo from Sophie Joissains’ Facebook

Belmont of The Art Newspaper adds that the piece is only one of ten murals within the home, which Cézanne painted between 1859 and 1869. The artist and his sisters had transferred the other nine works to canvases after they sold the home to the Granel-Corsy family in 1899. At present, museums from around the world hold these pieces, including the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Nakata Museum in Onomichi, Japan. 

Cézanne’s childhood home, Bastide du Jas de Bouffan in Aix-en-Provence
Cézanne’s childhood home, Bastide du Jas de Bouffan in Aix-en-Provence/Photo by Bjs via Wikimedia Commons

Despite the damaged state of “Entrée du port,” the piece still offers some valuable information about Cézanne’s evolution as an artist.

Growth and Inspiration

In 1859, Cézanne’s father Louis-Auguste purchased a 12.3-acre property that the family called Bastide du Jas de Bouffan, reports Schrader for Artnet. This space would become a kind of creative incubator for the young Cézanne, whose father encouraged him to paint murals around the home. This would give the artist enough freedom to experiment with his visual style, taking inspiration from other great artists of the time. 

An example of this is Cézanne’s “Le Baigneur au rocher” [“Bather and the Rocks”], another mural from the home that echoes the compositional style of Dutch artist Jacob Van Ruysdael, according to Belmont of The Art Newspaper. Mary Tompkins Lewis, one of the Cézanne scholars who got to see “Entrée du port” last September 2023, notes that the work may be heavily influenced by Claude-Joseph Vernet, an 18th century French painter famous for his harbor scenes, reports Veltman of NPR

Likely took inspiration from the works of Claude-Joseph Vernet, as seen in this piece “A Coastal Scene”
Likely took inspiration from the works of Claude-Joseph Vernet, as seen in this piece “A Coastal Scene”/Photo from the National Gallery of Ireland via Wikimedia Commons

 “We really see him grow up from a provincial painter trying to please his father to this young rebellious artist who would take on the world in Paris,” Tompkins Lewis elaborates in her exclusive interview with NPR

The Pride of Aix-en-Provence

Though Cézanne’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence has always championed the artist, it has never gotten the opportunity to house an original work by him—until recently. Denis Coutagne, the president of Société Paul Cézanne, announced that they will be keeping the work in the artist’s childhood home as part of the ongoing restoration efforts. In a Facebook post (originally in French), Sophie Joissains, the mayor of Aix-en-Provence and a French senator, announced that the piece will welcome visitors once the Bastide du Jas de Bouffan opens its doors in 2025. 

Paul Cézanne’s “Entrée du port”
Paul Cézanne’s “Entrée du port”/Photo from the Aix ma Ville Facebook

Other works will also be on display alongside the mural during the home’s opening, more specifically Cézanne’s early paintings from 1859 and one of his most famous pieces, “Les Joueurs des Cartes” [“The Card Players”]. The 1996 catalog raisonné will also be adding “Entrée du portto its digital platform as its newest addition to the artist’s oeuvre. 

During a press conference, Bruno Ely, a director of Aix-en-Provence’s Musée Granet stated: “Throughout the history of the Bastide, we have had no evidence of the presence of this painting, so this is a happy discovery.”

Banner photo from the Aix ma Ville Facebook; feature photo from Sophie Joissains’ Facebook

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