Cezanne’s Provence Painted by Artist Jill Steenhuis Part 1
Jill Steenhuis is an American artist who has lived just outside of Aix-en-Provence for 30 years. Jill paints en plein air (outside) the way Cezanne did much of his work. Inspired by this master painter and one of very few artists with access to Château Noir Jill agreed to share her story with Perfectly Provence readers.
Aix-en-Provence and Mount Sainte Victoire dazzled me from the first day I stepped foot in the south of France 35 years ago. I arrived June 16th, 1980. Being an expat all these years has never been something that has concerned me. Because of my strong American accent and Americanized ways I will always be viewed affectionately by the French as “l’Américaine dans la compagne d’Aix.”
I went to Camp DeSoto on Lookout Mountain in north Alabama only a few months after my mother died. I was nine years old. Love came to me on the Mountain. It reached out to me in song, in contact with nature, in the spirit of the others. It embraced my grieving soul. Summer after summer I returned to camp with my sisters, always counting the days when it would be time to go back.
At the end of my last summer as a camper at DeSoto, my heart was broken to leave such a place. I wondered what my life would be like without the goodness of camp. How would I cope with peer pressure at school, with finding my way in life, with choosing the narrow path rather than the grand boulevard? A camp counselor said to me, “Just take the Mountain with you.”
So I did.
For my birthday in December of the same year I was hoping my father knew what a 16-year-old wanted for her birthday. Coming home from school, I looked to see if the longed-for-gift was parked in the driveway, shiny and bright with a big bow around it. My father came forward, beaming with his outstretched hands, holding his beautifully wrapped gift for me. It was a book of Paul Cezanne’s paintings. With great enthusiasm he explained, “Cezanne is the man of the future. He is the Father of Modern Art.”
In order not to hurt my father’s feelings, I sat down next to him in front of the fireplace and tried as best I could to act pleased over this gift. What struck me most were Cezanne’s late paintings of Mount Sainte Victoire. I opened the book again and again to look at the paintings. The image of Cezanne’s Mountain had a mystical effect on me. I felt I knew it. I recognized the nature and the spirit of the Mountain that came from Cezanne’s inner poetry in his relationship to his motif. The “Mountain” I held in my heart took on a visual and mystical appearance – the colossal link between earth and heaven.
Not in my wildest dreams did I know what destiny had in store for me. Upon graduating from Sweet Briar College with a BFA in studio art, my father gave me the gift of a six-week trip to Aix to attend the Marchutz School that taught the drawing and painting techniques of Cezanne. So I journeyed to the south of France to discover Cezanne’s Mountain. I thought if I could see it for myself and walk in the very places where Cezanne had painted; I might understand his vision, and I might be shown the way to my inner poetry. To see the mountain, to climb, to draw, to paint, to become one with it, was like the Zen master’s teaching, who told his pupils, “Spend 10 years observing the bamboo, become a bamboo yourself, then forget everything and paint…”
Mount Sainte Victoire called to my inner voice and made itself heard in my being. Seeking to discover the way to create, what to create and how to create has been my journey.
For more details Jill’s website can be found here.
Image credits: all photos were provided by and published with the permission of Jill Steenhuis.