Thalassa : le magazine de la mer
First broadcast date
Report on Cezanne’s journey in Marseille and more particularly in Estaque, where the painter, enchanted by the light of the place and conquered by the richness of the nature forms, made many paintings during two long stays.
France 3 - Own production
- Cézanne Paul
- Braque Georges
- Dufy Raoul
- Derain André
- Landscapes and environment / Geography and landscapes
Credits / Cast
- Ragris Gilles - Journalist
- Poulle Stéphane - Journalist
- France - South East - Marseille
Made famous by certain films like René Allio's 1965 classic La vieille dame indigne, but more recently by the films of Robert Guédiguian, including Marius et Jeannette (1997), Estaque is a district of northern Marseille, wedged between the sea and the hills. It used to be a little fishing village which also made roof tiles, bricks and floor tiles, then with the industrialisation of these traditional products in the second half of the 19th century and the arrival of a huge population to work in the factories, it has grown enormously. Most of the workers were immigrants, mainly Italian. The construction of the railway and the station at Estaque, followed later by the coastal road with its viaducts and tunnels, opened up the village, and now it houses many workers employed in the northern districts of Marseille. The population rocketed from some 1,000 in 1871 to more than 13,000 in 1931. A working-class district, Estaque has for many years been represented by the Communists. Because of its situation and the fashion for sea-side activities it also became a resort in the late 19th century.
This contrast between its idyllic setting and its industrial, working class population also made Estaque a favourite place for painters. Mediterranean nature has fascinated writers and travellers since the 18th century and is abundantly described and represented in paintings and novels, the fruit of these grand tours. However the landscape around Estaque was shown off most famously by Paul Cezanne.
The Post-impressionist painter from Aix-en Provence was the first of a series of painters to stay in Estaque in 1870. Fleeing military service he found refuge in this valley. Several times in 1876, then 1878 and 1879 he set up his easel in the hills, his face turned towards the sea, painting canvases bursting with light, making the angular shapes stand out in a landscape combining the mineral of the limestone hills with the vegetal of the Parasol Pines and the Mediterranean garrigue. Like the impressionists before him, light fascinated Cezanne. In a letter to Pissaro from Estaque he called it "terrifying". The urban motifs, the traces of industrialisation, were not forgotten, trademark of a style of painting which admired progress, modernity and contemporary genius. The most famous paintings like Rochers à l'Estaque or La mer à l'Estaque helped make the landscape internationally known.
In his wake several great painters of the time stayed at l'Estaque. Renoir and Monet were invited in 1882 and 1883. In 1906, the year of Cezanne's death, there was new fashion for the place. Braque, having seen the master's paintings, went to Estaque in 1906 and 1908. He painted two major works of French painting Le Viaduc à l'Estaque and Les Usines du Rio-Tinto à l'Estaque, in which Cezanne's geometric shapes find their culmination, leaning towards abstraction through their cube-like shape. This revolution in the way of showing space would later be known as Cubism.
At the forefront of a new pictorial movement, Braque was followed by other painters to Estaque: notably Derain, Marquet and Dufy. From the 1950's, Estaque like the rest of Marseille's northern districts, was touched by the crisis in traditional industries. Fishing and roof-tiles declined. Cement-works and chemical works employed fewer and fewer Italians and people from Marseille, switching to workers from North Africa who were arriving by the ship-load following the end of colonisation. Unemployment in one part of the world brought them to the wretchedness of the slums next to these factories. Progressively the municipal policies, particularly the creation of the sensitive urban zone Estaque Saumaty by the Gaudin council, helped rehabilitate the area. Marseille's last slum, Le Fenouil, at the entrance of Estaque, disappeared at the beginning of the 21st century.
Marcel Roncayolo, Les grammaires d’une ville. Essai sur la genèse des structures urbaines à Marseille, Paris, EHESS, 1996
Alfred Saurel, La Banlieue de Marseille, Jeanne Laffite, 1995
Michel Hooq, Cézanne, « puissant et solitaire », Découvertes Gallimard, 2011
Georges Braque et le paysage de L'Estaque à Varengeville 1906-1963, catalogue de l'exposition au Musée Cantini à Marseille, Hazan, 2006