Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Fight to Save Cezanne's Countryside

The family of Paul Cézanne is “horrified” to learn that the SNCF is thinking of building an ultra-fast train track at the foot of Mount Sainte-Victoire, which Cezanne painted 87 times and has come to symbolize his genius. “I feel under attack,” Philippe Cézanne, the great grandson of the famous post-impressionist, told The Guardian in a story that appears today. “The soul of Cézanne is in these hills. It's still quite magical, and all the foreigners who come to the region are surprised to find the landscapes as the artist saw them." Philippe Cézanne is lending his weight to an increasingly vocal campaign to stop a new stretch of fast track from running directly from Aix to Nice, through the beautiful Provence arrière pays where Cézanne had his family home. The new stretch is part of the so-called LGV PACA line, designed to reduce travel time from Paris to Nice, which currently takes 5.5 hours. The new line is set to open by 2020. The most direct "northern" route, which would take around four hours, would cut through the Provence hinterland along the Arc valley, past the south side of Mount Sainte-Victoire to Nice. A slower, costlier "southern" alternative would skirt the Cézanne area and pass through the coastal cities of Marseille and Toulon. It would take about 20 minutes more and increase the price tag by up to €3.5 billion. Last year, President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke out in favor of the "southern" route but protesters claim the government has changed its mind and now favors the cheaper, more direct route. Last month, a group of 5,000 gathered at the Aix station to protest the reported decision. Their banners read: "Sainte-Victoire, you will tremble," and "Help Cézanne, they have gone crazy". Among the protesters were winegrowers from the Sainte-Victoire appellation, who say their vineyards will be ruined by the new line. Earlier this week, 86 local politicians traveled to Paris to meet the environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo. Their chief spokesman was the Aix-en-Provence mayor Maryse Joissains Masini. Cézanne used trains to get from Paris to Aix. But when a small station was opened at the foot of Jas de Bouffan, his family home, he “vented his anger in brushstrokes,” says Telegraph France correspondent Henry Samuel. Cezanne’s 1873 work La Tranchée avec la Montagne Saint-Victoire (The Cutting), depicts Mount Sainte-Victoire in the distance, and, in the foreground, the local railway line through the hills. "The flanks of the ruptured hills are painted in almost a blood red. He considered it to be an open wound in the heart of the landscape, an offence to nature," said Michel Fresset, director of the Atelier Cézanne in Aix. Read the full article here: And read Henry Samuel's blog post here:

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