Village Square (Place de Village) typically resides on the south wall of Room 7 on the Barnes Foundation’s first floor. For one week, the painting came off the gallery wall and was moved into the conservation lab for closer examination.
One fortunate consequence of carrying out these close examinations during the exhibition The World Is an Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne is that some of the most significant Cézanne scholars are making their way to Philadelphia this summer for the chance to see these great works together in one space. In June, Denis Coutagne, former director of the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence, paid us a visit in the conservation lab. Village Square (Place de Village) was laid out on the table, and when Mr. Coutagne saw it he immediately exclaimed, “Melun! et l’église Saint-Aspais!"
Mr. Coutagne informed us that the painting was most likely created between 1879 and 1880, when Cézanne was living at 2 Rue de la Préfecture in Melun, and that it depicted the view of the steeple of Saint-Aspais church. The steeple that Cézanne painted was destroyed during the Allied invasion and liberation of France in 1944. It wasn’t rebuilt after the bombing, but the photo of the features that remain is immediately recognizable next to Village Square.
Try a Google Street View search of Cézanne’s Melun address to see the current view of what may be the very same village square in the painting! View from outside Cézanne's Melun residence.
Keep an eye out for part 3 of this series, which focuses on the material evidence that the painting offers of Cézanne’s methods.
Paul Cézanne (French, 1839–1906).Village Square (Place de village), (detail), c. 1881. Oil on canvas, 20 7/8 x 25 3/8 in. (53 x 64.4 cm). BF3. Image © 2014 The Barnes Foundation
Current view of St. Aspais, Melun, France. Photo credit: David Jouas via Wikimedia Commons