Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Painting Holidays in Provence 2020

Many of my readers and travel-planning clients ask about painting workshops in Provence...and I've found some wonderful instructors happy to give half- and full-day lessons. (See some here.) But if you'd like something more comprehensive, you might consider a trip devoted mostly or entirely to painting. (Sounds like heaven, no?) Most of these painting holidays last about a week but some are as short as three nights; lodging ranges from rustic to highly refined. They happen all over the South of France, in spring, summer and fall. So once again I've gathered a selection for you, chosen because they're either led by painters I know and admire, or are recommended by people I trust, or they look really promising online. I've also included a few in the Languedoc (or Occitanie, as it’s now called).

For those of you who’ve never painted or haven’t painted in years...or who’ve never traveled with a group of strangers...or are nervous about spending the money...or nervous about whatever...here’s a quick anecdote.

My first trip to Provence was to take a two-week photography workshop here, in 1997. Not only was it a fantastic experience but it led to a total life change...one that I had no idea I was looking for. Over the course of the following year or so, I quit my long-time job as an editor in New York, ended a long-term relationship (he had it coming anyway), started a freelance writing career, sublet my NYC apartment, rented a house in St. Remy and took off. I spoke no French, had never dreamed of living in France and knew just a couple people here, just barely. It was meant to be an escapade, a little break from real life, but very quickly I realized it was the smartest stupid thing I’ve ever done. Twenty years on, I’m happier here than ever...and it would never have happened had I not grabbed the last spot in that workshop way back when. So carpe diem! Life is short, you never know and you totally deserve this!

For questions about any of the workshops below, please contact the organizer or instructor directly. And definitely book soon...the best ones fill up quickly. If you’re leading a painting holiday in Provence or have one to recommend that’s not listed here, drop me an email: whattodoinprovence@gmail.com.

Here’s this year’s list...

* British artist Julian Merrow-Smith has lived and worked in Provence for more 20 years. I think his work is exquisite and so do the thousands of people who follow his "Postcard from Provence" daily painting project. In 2020, he'll be offering six painting getaways with his wife Ruth Phillips, a writer and musician...but space is limited and some are already full. Workshops are available in the May poppy season, July for the lavender fields and in September and October when many think Provence is at its best. All materials and supplies are included.  The group stays in a lovely 14th-century manor house in the countryside at the foot of Mont Ventoux.  Prices range from $2190 (for simple shared accommodation) to $4050 for deluxe master bedrooms, double occupancy; the single supplement is $500. Evening meals are accompanied by fine Côtes du Rhône wines and all meals are prepared by an award-winning Irish chef.  “Apart from delicious food and wine there are no frills to this workshop," Julian says. "We usually visit one of the local markets; otherwise the week is all about painting—talking, living and breathing it together. Our aim, above all, is to give you the experience of living the painter's life in the south of France." shiftinglight.com,  julian@shiftinglight.com

* The watercolor artist Tessa Baker, originally from London, is one of the most popular instructors in Provence, where she's lived full time since 1985. Tessa currently has space on the following trips: Provence in Spring (April 18-25); Venasque, Roussillon and Les Baux (June 20 -27, Sept 5-12, Sept 19-26) and Seville, Spain (Oct 10-17). "Painting is a joyful moment in time so I encourage students enjoy, laugh, have fun, create," she says. "It seems to work very well!" Provence guests stay in a 17th-century country manor--between St. Didier and Venasque--that’s been in the same family for 10 generations, set in the middle of vineyards, olive groves and cherry orchards, with Mont Ventoux in the distance. “It’s a perfect villa for a painting trip,” Tessa says. Day trips during the “Venasque, Roussillon...” class visit the Carrieres des Lumieres in Les Baux, the ochre cliffs of Roussillon (with a lesson at an old ochre-processing plant), paint in olive groves, and visit to local villages and markets. For the “Provence in Spring” trip guests stay in Lorgues, visiting the Gorges de Verdon, the nearby pottery village of Moustier Saint Maries, the medieval village of Tourtour and a modern-art sculpture park. Everyone loves the carriage ride with a huge cart horse named Volcon, only one of six in France. Meals are splendid picnics or are served at home, in the shade of Linden trees. The workshop chef is known for healthful, seasonal Mediterranean meals.  paintprovencewithtess.comtessabakerart@gmail.com.

* The ArtisTTable retreat in May is already sold out but they’re offering a second Provence painting trip October 4 to 11. You'll visit and paint the sites around Arles that so inspired Vincent Van Gogh...and the sites around Aix and near Mont Sainte-Victoire that captivated Paul Cézanne for years. Your hosts will be Royce Deans and Tali Farchi of ArtisTTable Art Retreats; this is their fifth painting workshop in the area.  Along the way you'll hear fascinating tales from the lives of Van Gogh and Cézanne, while getting encouragement and instruction. "This trip will take your plein-air painting experience to a whole new level," the instructors say.  Cost: $2100 pp single, or $1950 pp if you register before April 30. artisttableonline.com, info@artisttableonline.com.

* The Atelier Provence & Barcelona Art Tour 2020 (June 27-July 8) combines a 7-day painting workshop in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence with a 4-day art-history tour in Barcelona. It is a great opportunity to paint in plein-air (lavender fields, ochre cliffs, Mont St. Victoire, etc.), to learn art history and art theory, to visit Barcelona’s fabulous architecture and art museums; and to enjoy famous Provencal and Catalan cuisine and wines.  Visit Cézanne’s studio, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the Picasso and the Miró Museums and more. The tour is sponsored by Walk The Arts, which has been hosting workshops in Italy, France, Spain and South America since 1997. Price: $2880 includes art instruction, 11-night double accommodation (7 in Provence, 4 in Barcelona), most meals, all ground transport including high-speed train Avignon to Barcelona and entry to all museums and sites. walkthearts.com, info@walkthearts.com.

* Fiona and Jean-Louis Diaz are an Australian-French couple, based in the historical village of Jouques, just 30 minutes north of Aix. They run Artelier Provence--a fine-art gallery and studio--offering one-day drawing and painting workshops as well as four-day retreats. Retreats include five nights lodging so you have time to experience village life in Provence. Lessons take place in both village and rural settings, in and around Jouques. Jean-Louis is an accomplished artist whose practice in Provence enables him to extend his passion for color and luminosity while exploring his passion for encaustic medium. This summer they’ll host two retreats. The first, Drawing and Painting, is June 16 to 19. The second, Painting with Oil Encaustic, is June 23 to 26. Other dates may also be available; see their site and inquire.  artelierprovence.com, artelierprovence@gmail.com.
* Jill Steenhuis is an Atlanta-born visual artist who has lived in Aix since 1980. She earned her BFA at Sweet Briar College and, following graduation, enrolled in The Leo Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in Aix, which follows in the tradition of Cézanne. Jill works directly from nature, en plein-air. In addition to leading Cezanne and Van Gogh walking tours for American museums and art lovers, Jill offers week-long oil painting workshops in the Provencal countryside for all ability levels. Workshops are designed for both confirmed painters and beginners, focusing on experiencing nature through the senses and encouraging each student to "bring out his own inner poetry.” 2020 dates are May 22-30,  June 19-27 and Sept 11-19. Price: $4,900 double or triple; $5,250 single. This year Jill will also lead a number of two-day workshops while  on tour in the US. artinprovence.comjillsteenhuis@gmail.com

Workshops in France is running six painting trips in Provence in 2020, staying in three château-based locations. Retreats are uninstructed; workshops  have artist/instructors. Retreats (open to all media and levels) combine artistic immersion with daily painting sessions in private vineyards, small fishing ports, charming villages, markets, and on the Van Gogh trail in St Rémy. Click here for details. A 10-day retreat (June 24-July 4), in the Luberon near Aix, is designed for those who want to paint during lavender season; another  7-day retreat follows here July 12-18. Then there are four 10-day workshops with master instructors, in early May, June, and September.  Americans in Paris Paint Provence (May 6-15) will be hosted by five leading artists; everyone stays at Moulin de la Roque, an historic estate between St. Rémy and Avignon, with a mill, river and beautiful grounds. Guests learn from each artist, focusing on landscapes, figures, portrait painting, composition and more.  Later in May (May 24-June 2), Susan Lyon will teach portraits and figure painting at the same location, joined by painter Scott Burdick. A workshop with Rose Frantzen is Sept 16-25. Finally, Joseph Zbukvic, the Australian watercolorist, will host a workshop at another château near Avignon (Sept. 2-11).  Non-painting partners will find plenty to do and are welcome in all workshops and retreats. Day students and drop-ins are welcome, pending availability.  workshopsinfrance.comjulie@workshopsinfrance.com.

In the Languedoc/Occitanie

*At their Academy Studios Abroad, Tod Ramos and Kate Lovegrove lead workshops in a beautiful village in the Gard, not far from the Camargue, using their grand village house as home base. Offerings for 2020 include: * Tour de Horse (May 18-29), a master class on the fundamental anatomy of the horse and the principles of its movement and form. * The Lifesaver Course (June 21-July 4): drawing and painting the model from life, in movement and repose, for both nude and traditional portraiture. * Portrait Painting with Models (July 20-31): positioning and composition; background and lighting; engaging the sitter; drawing in different media and painting oils.  As with all the courses, color and pigment theory, preparation of drawing and painting media are included. * Generation Art (Aug 20-24) is a five-day holiday course for kids ages 6 to 14 and their parents. * Zen and the Art of Landscape Painting, with Hatha Yoga (Aug 31-Sept 11): paint and draw en plein air with tutoring in both topographical and natural landscapes; the course may also include interior painting and still life. Plus, there's yoga in the morning and evening.  academystudiosabroad.comcontact@academystudiosabroad.com.

Painting in France is hosted by English artist Simon Roberts and his South African wife Monica. This year there’s a new flexible mix of 3, 5 and 8 day all-inclusive painting holidays, in May/June and September/October. Prices start $1285 pp,sharing a twin or double. Simon guides you through sketching and watercolor techniques in a variety of locations, rom Mediterranean lagoons and ports to ancient villages and vineyards. Groups are seven students max so there’s plenty of personal attention. Beginners are welcome and all equipment and materials are supplied. When you’re not being wined and dined in local restaurants, Monica, an excellent cook, prepares chic picnics among the vines and delicious meals from local suppliers in the couple's courtyard garden. painting-in-france.comsimon@painting-in-france.com.

* Sketching Holidays in southern France with Annette Morris take place in a variety of locations, from 3 to 7 nights. Ideal for single travelers, these short breaks are great if you’re new to sketching, or a more experienced watercolorist looking to loosen up your style. Annette is British but has lived and worked in France for 12 years; she's completely dedicated to helping her students discover French life like a local, while helping you learn to capture the essence of it in your sketchbook day to day. Workshops may include cooking, wine-tasting and private cruises on the Canal du Midi; special dates can be arranged for groups if you're traveling with friends. "My short-stay holidays take place in carefully selected B&Bs, private luxury apartments or château with private pools," Annette says. "Your holiday sketchbook will contain wonderful memories to treasure forever."  Amsketching.comannette@sketchingfrance.com.

* Sketching for Foodies is hosted by Anne de Ravel, a food writer, cookbook author and former producer at Food Network in New York.  Through her company Saveur Languedoc, Anne (a native Languedocienne!) leads food-and-wine tours of this lovely region located to the south and west of Provence. The Languedoc is know for lush vineyards, richly historic cities, beautiful Mediterranean beaches, stunning mountain trails and, of course, the world-famous Canal du Midi. Anne returned from the US, to live here full time, in 2007.  Sketching for Foodies,  a 4-night holiday, adds joyful sketching sessions to Anne's popular mix of cooking classes, food and wine touring, tastings and more. Sketching is led by Annette Morris (see just above), while Anne takes care of the rest.  From your charming B&B in Quarante, you'll travel through some of the most-picturesque places and discover the area with an insider. You'll meet artisan producers and sample rustic traditional foods; you’ll lunch in restaurants loved by locals. And along the way, you'll become a skillful sketcher. Dates: June 14-18, October 7-11.  Price: From 605€ pp in a double. For info: click here or here or email to: deravelanne@gmail.com.

Photos: (1) Feeling the lavender love on a painting holiday with Workshops in France. (2) Yep, that's a real horse in the studio for an Academy Studios Abroad workshop. Meet him yourself in this year's Tour de Horse workshop in May.  (3, 4)  Two paintings by Julian Merrow-Smith: "November Roses" and "Clementines in a Blue Bowl." (5, 6) Julian's students stay in a Provençal manor house on 180 acres of vines and woodland at the foot of Mont Ventoux. Julian calls the location "an ideal place to relax and draw on your creative energy." (7-9) By artist Jill Steenhuis: "Platane Trees at Chateau des Alpilles." Jill lives in Aix and will teach three painting workshops this year. Jill's painting "Activity in the Port of Cassis." (10) Tessa Baker will host a number of workshops this year where students visit and paint the striking ochre cliffs in Roussillon. (11, 12) Two of Tessa's paintings. (13) Meals in Tessa's workshops are fresh, colorful, healthful and Mediterranean inspired. (14, 15) Sign on for a workshop with the ArtisTTable and you'll see Cezanne's studio in Aix and the typical "gardian's cabins" of the Camargue.  (16-18) Walk the Arts offers workshops that combine Provence and Spain. You'll paint at Cezanne's famous Mont St. Victoire, then zip off to Barcelona for the Boqueria food market, Gaudi's famous Sagrada Familia and more. (19) Fiona and Jean-Louis Diaz are an Australian-French couple based 30 minutes north of Aix. They run Artelier Provence and will host two four-night retreats this year. (20) A student in an Artelier Provence workshop. (21) Teaching color theory at Artelier Provence. (22-24) With Workshops in France: painting the hilltop village of Gordes, in St. Remy and in Cucuron. (25, 26) A poppy painting by instructor Jane Hunt, who taught this gang at Workshops in France in 2019. (27) Students at Academy Studios Abroad stay in this historic private home in Aubais, in the foothills of the Cevennes mountains. (28) Painting nudes with Academy Studios Abroad. (29) A visit to the Musee Fabre in Montpellier with Academy Studios Abroad. (30-33) Simon and Monica Roberts of Painting in France have lived and worked in the Languedoc since 2011. After breakfast, you may head to the ancient Mediterranean port of Marseillan and spend the morning sketching and painting. You'll stay in a renovated village house (perhaps this one) or in a local chateau. (34, 35) A sketch by Annette Morris, done as a workshop demo; here Annette teaches upside down so students can easily see her working. (36) Anne de Ravel (far right) organizes food and wine trips in the Languedoc. She's teamed up with Annette Morris to offer "Sketching for Foodies" twice this year. Anne previously worked for Food Network and the New York Times, before returning home to her native France.


  1. Thanks for a great article Julie!
    So informative on all the many choices ... You have sourced a wonderful and varied selection of teaching painters and what they are offering. Who wouldn't want to spend the whole summer here!

  2. Julie, this is a terrific list of workshops for plein air and painters with a specific niche, be it horses, or nudes! I have sent this article to my many friends who are painters as the list of workshops is sensational. One friend who will be staying with me in Uzes for a second for a quick visit before joining Julian Merrow-Smiths 9 day workshop for a second time. She cannot say enough good things about it! Lovely, huge room in a chateau, a celebrity, cook, alone time, a pool, and of course, splendid vistas to paint all day long, should one desire. Besides, Provence and the Languedoc are magnificent. All these teachers (really painters first) are excellent. Take this list seriously and go! Nothing like painting in Provence! Thank you Julie! Cynthia Gibson