House with the Cracked Walls and To Build a Home

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Paul Cezanne, The House with the Cracked Walls, 1892-1894

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Home is something familiar, comforting, static. For children, home takes on the literal meaning of the house that they return to each night. But then children grow up. They find other homes. They find comfort in other realms of life. Home is essential. Everyone wants to feel like they belong somewhere, like they are not alone in life. That they can always have somewhere to go back to. Home can be a place, or a person, even a feeling. But, as the song suggests, nothing quite feels like home like an old house laden with memories and dust and lingering piano chords.

For Cezanne, the house with the dust and the wooden floors may have been this house in the Bibémus Quarries, where he painted many of his paintings in the latter part of his life. When I travelled to Aix-En-Provence this past summer, I took a trip to the Bibémus Quarries and Mont St-Victoire. The place itself was eerie – eroded rock surfaces and an abandoned cabin and a crumbling stone wall, all against the backdrop of Mont Sainte-Victoire. It looked exactly like Cezanne’s paintings, yet it also looked completely different, almost too realistic even. Cezanne’s work is beautiful, but it did more than capture the beauty of the place. This is not a painting of a simple house or a simple place. It must have felt like home to Cezanne, who painted there for more than ten years, often spending nights in the little stone cabin nestled in the woods on the outskirts of the quarries. Now the cabin’s walls are even more cracked, and layers of dust catch the sunlight when you peek through the window. He painted here, a more than a century ago, just Cezanne and his mountain, and I can’t imagine anything more peaceful.

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