Saturday, March 17, 2012


My parents arrived in Aix-En-Provence this morning.

From the Marseille airport, my parents were chauffeured to their hotel, situated ten minutes (by foot) from the center of Aix-En-Provence.

The hotel, a former Provencal mansion from the 18th-Century, is secluded, and has its own series of gardens suitable for strolling.

My parents settled into the hotel, which they found pleasing, and enjoyed a lunch. In the very early afternoon, my parents proceeded to the Mazarin quarter of Aix-En-Provence, where they visited two adjacent buildings.

The first was Eglise Saint-Jean de Malte, a Gothic church constructed in the 13th Century—and, I believe, the oldest house of worship in Aix-En-Provence (the church’s bell tower remains, by law, the tallest structure in the city).

Eglise Saint-Jean de Malte is larger than it appears from its severe Gothic exterior. The interior, in the style of a Gothic hall church (complete with Gothic ceiling), houses numerous paintings and pieces of statuary. The church’s most famous artwork is a significant painting by Eugene Delacroix. My parents report that the church’s interior was much, much brighter than they had expected. (After an examination of the church’s exterior, my parents had prepared themselves for a gloomy interior.)

Adjacent to Eglise Saint-Jean de Malte is Musee Granet, the most important art museum in Aix-En-Provence. Musee Granet is housed in what used to be the priory of Eglise Saint-Jean de Malte.

My parents report that the museum was deserted of visitors this afternoon, which greatly surprised them. Musee Granet had received worldwide attention in 2006 for its incomparable centenary exhibition devoted to Paul Cezanne, and my parents had somehow expected the museum to be packed with multitudes of visitors.

There were more guards than visitors this afternoon—and the guards appeared to be so disinterested in their work that, according to my father, the museum must be a training ground for professional art thieves.

For years, Musee Granet had a poor reputation. Its spaces were considered poorly-designed and poorly-utilized, its lighting inadequate, its displays not up to museum standard.

All that was supposed to have changed a few years ago, when the museum closed for a multi-year renovation. According to my parents, however, the revamped Musee Granet is still not a good museum insofar as presentation of art is concerned—which, of course, makes them wonder what the much-criticized pre-renovated museum was like.

Much of the painting collection is hung salon-style, and only the paintings hung at eye level are easily examined. According to my parents, at least half of the paintings on display, for all practical purposes, may not be viewed at all.

Sculptures in the attractive sculpture gallery are placed too closely together, forcing visitors to cram themselves between pieces (and run the risk of touching the artworks).

Since the museum’s renovation, most of its antiquities collection has been in storage—and apparently will not be seen until plans for a new museum devoted to antiquities come to fruition.

The Musee Granet painting collection spans the 14th Century to the early 20th Century. It is not a notable or even a particularly strong collection, but my parents say they were immensely pleased to have had the chance to stroll through the collection at a leisurely pace, free from the crush of other visitors. Provincial museums can have their charms.

Musee Granet owns only a handful of paintings by Cezanne. The museum director during Cezanne’s lifetime detested the work of Cezanne, and refused to add Cezanne artworks to the museum’s collection.

After my parents’ visit to Musee Granet was complete, they returned to the hotel, had an early dinner in the hotel dining room, and turned in early.

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