Arts and Traditions

The arts and cultural traditions of Provence: painting, music. opera, cinema, photography and everything from the cult of the cicada and Christmas santons to a little lexicon of lavender.

Click here to read our section with full coverage of the programme of exciting events for Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture.

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Provence: The Best French Films Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Cinema

Brigitte Bardot in And God Created Woman.....The fabulous landscapes and remarkable characters of Provence have inspired some great movies - and so if you can't make it there this year, what better than to snuggle down and dream of the South with a classic movie?

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The Cicada, Or Cigale: Fifteen Fun Facts Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

A ceramic or pottery cigale (cicada)

Love them or loathe them, you can't escape cicadas, or cigales as they're known locally, if you come to Provence in high summer. But there's more to the cicada than just a raucous din.

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Santons and Christmas Cribs of Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

Santon of a peasant woman holding a pompe a l'huileThe Santons Fair in Marseille is one of the city's most popular attractions in the early winter. Not simply tourist trinkets, these Christmas crib figures are an authentic folk tradition, and many provençal homes still maintain elaborate Nativity cribs today.

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Gallery: The Quarries of Lights Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Image from the 2012 show at the Quarries of LightsClosed for over a year, the hugely popular son et lumière show at the Cathedral of Images, near Les Baux de Provence in the Alpilles, reopened in 2012 under new management and a new name, the Quarries of Lights (Carrières de Lumières).

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Les Indiennes: Provence's Colourful Fabrics Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

Indiennes provencal fabric, with cicadasOne of the prettiest, most evocative - and cheapest - souvenirs you can buy in Provence are the traditional fabrics known as “les indiennes”. Despite their name, they sing of the South of France, with sunflowers, olive branches, mimosa, vines, sprigs of lavender, lemons and even cigales, or cicadas (pictured left), all in intense sun-drenched colours. There’s nothing quite like them to brighten up a home and they make superb gifts.

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The Tarot de Marseille Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

The Hanged Man tarot cardThe Magician, the Hermit, the Hanged Man, the Wheel of Fortune and the controversial Papesse: these are some of the mysterious and metaphorical cards in the word-famous Tarot de Marseille.

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Celebrating Christmas in Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

The wheat of Saint Barbara (le blé de la Sainte Barbe)Stand by for a long Christmas season - known locally as La Calendale - in Provence. People here love to celebrate, and for as long as possible, and the Calendale runs almost two months. It embraces a host of vibrant and curious traditions, of which these are the most popular. Click here for a list of the best individual markets, fairs, processions and other Christmas events in Provence this winter.

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Victor Vasarely in Aix en Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Vega by Victor VasarelyCreated in 1976 by the father of Op Art, the Fondation Vasarely has been eroded for decades by a sad and bitter family dispute. But a major restoration programme is well underway and, even in its present, damaged state, this visionary centre remains an important destination for anyone interested in modern art.

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Gallery: The Painters of L'Estaque Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

The Sea at L'Estaque by Paul CézanneThis gallery of masterpieces accompanies our guide to L'Estaque, the little town outside Marseille which, for over half a century, attracted a stream of great artists including Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Raoul Dufy and Georges Braque.

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Fun Christmas Santons Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

A "caganer" santon of Queen ElizabethSantons are not just about the Holy Family and picturesque peasants (click here to read about traditional santons). Some santon-makers are keen to give them a cheeky or surprising spin.

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Jacques Hérold: A Romanian Surrealist in Marseille Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

painting by Jacques HeroldTo celebrate the centenary of the surrealist artist Jacques Hérold, the Musée Cantini in Marseille presented around a hundred of his paintings, drawings and sculptures until 27 February 2011. It was the first time Hérold (1910-1987) had had a major retrospective at a French museum.

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Félix Ziem: Mediterranean Maestro Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

American boat in the Port of Marseille by Felix ZiemThe painter Félix Ziem is relatively unknown today though Vincent van Gogh thought his brilliant blue skies the most beautiful in all of art. The work of this Mediterranean maestro is on view at the Musée Ziem in Martigues, where he worked and lived for several years.

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Ballet Preljocaj and the Pavillon Noir Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Dance and Theatre

Ballet PreljocajAix en Provence is home to one of the world's leading choreographers, Angelin Preljocaj, whose company, Ballet Preljocaj, is based in its own stunning, modernist, purpose-built premises, the Pavillon Noir.

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Joseph Garibaldi: Painter of Peaceful Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Three Sailing Boats by Joseph GaribaldiJoseph Garibaldi (1863-1941) was born in Marseille, died there and rarely strayed very far from his hometown in the intervening eight decades - which, perhaps, is one reason why he's still relatively unknown today. However, Garibaldi's work was deservedly spotlighted in 2012 in a show in (where else?) Marseille.

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The a-part Festival of Contemporary Art Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Owl by Bertrand Gadenne a-part 2013a-part is a festival of modern art which takes each year throughout the summer in some of the loveliest countryside, towns and villages in the Alpilles. In 2013, a-part was held from 5 July to 25 August.

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The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Literature

The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle has almost single-handedly defined an idyllic, affectionate, gently humorous image of the rural South of France in the public imagination with his A Year in Provenceimage! series and multiple spin-offs.

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La Ciotat, Cinema and the Lumières Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Cinema

Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat station by the Lumiere BrothersLa Ciotat calls itself the cradle of cinema, with justification. The pioneering Lumière Brothers made their first films here, and its Eden Théâtre claims to be the world's oldest surviving public cinema.

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The Festival d'Avignon Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Dance and Theatre

The Festival'AvignonEach July, the entire city of Avignon turns into a gorgeous giant theatre. Founded in 1947, the Avignon Festival today consists of two strands, the main festival and the fringe, known as the "In" and the "Off" respectively. The date of the 2014 main festival is 4-27 July and the Off is 5-27 July.

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Christmas Markets, Fairs and Festivals in Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

The pastrage at Les Baux de ProvenceThe cities of Northern and Central Europe might be more famous for their Christmas markets, but this is also an utterly magical season in Provence.

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Daniel Auteuil Tackles Pagnol - Again Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Cinema

Daniel AuteuilThe veteran French film star Daniel Auteuil just can't seem to tear himself away from his passion for Marcel Pagnol.

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The Card Players of Paul Cézanne Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Study for The Card Players by Paul CezanneYou'll often find a huddle of them today in the corner of a small-town bar in Provence: players utterly engrossed in a game of cards. And, as with his celebrated cycles on the Mont Sainte Victoire or the Bathers, Paul Cézanne was fascinated by these weather-beaten peasants and returned to them again and again.

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The Festival d'Aix en Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Music

Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix en Provence logoAix's Festival of Lyric Art is one of the cultural highlights of the year in Provence and its open-air performances in the balmy midsummer nights are magical occasions. The dates of the 2014 Festival d'Aix are 2-23 July.

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Total Immersion in Marcel Pagnol's Dark, Comic World Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Literature

Actors playing a scene from Manon des SourcesWhether you're a keen hiker or a fan of Pagnol, here's a unique experience. An all-day walk/theatrical performance takes you into the wild, craggy hills of Aubagne and the dark, comic heart of the writer's world, which actors bring to thrilling life.

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A Little Lexicon of Lavender Part One: A-K Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

Close-up of lavender flowerLavender might look lovely but it has to work hard for its living. Its flowers are prized for their honey, their perfume and health-giving oils. Some chefs use them in cooking. And of course the lavender fields of Provence are a major tourist attraction.

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A Little Lexicon of Lavender Part Two: L-Z Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

Acvertisement for Le Male perfume by Jean-Paul l GaultierWe conclude our lavender lexicon with the differences between lavender and lavandin, a history of lavender loving, the year lavender bloomed on the Old Port of Marseille, the surprisingly masculine image of lavender water and Provence's pretty version of the lavender bag.

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Savon de Marseille Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Traditions

Savon de Marseille

You can't mistake an authentic bar of Marseille soap. Olive green or creamy white, it's a large, perfect cube, embossed on all six faces, with no added perfume or fancy packaging. Here is our essential guide to one of the city's most famous products.

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Robert Lepage's Nightingale in Aix en Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Music

Robert LepageRobert Lepage's visionary version of Igor Stravinsky's opera, The Nightingale, featured a flooded orchestra pit and Asian shadow puppets. The eccentric French-Canadian director talked about the extraordinary concept behind his production when it played at the Festival d'Aix in July 2010.

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Roger Blachon: A Comic Dreamer in Marseille Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Roger Blachon, Only One ZizouWelcome to the wacky, dream-like, erotic and comic world of the artist, designer and illustrator Roger Blachon, who lived for only a few years in Marseille, where he also died, but who took like a duck to water to the locals' exuberance and their infinite ability not to take themselves seriously.

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Gallery: Brigitte Bardot in Saint Tropez Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Poster  for Bardot exhibition inSaint Tropez, 2010A huge exhibition of Bardot memorabilia, including photographs, private films and personal effects such as her first pair of ballet shoes, was staged in 2010 in the town which she made famous - and which made her famous in its turn.

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Gianfranco Iannuzzi: Son et Lumière Magician Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Couleurs Cezanne at les Baux de Provence by Gianfranco IannuzziIf you have visited the South of France, the chances are that you have seen one of Gianfranco Iannuzzi’s unique and poetic son et lumière installations in some of Provence’s loveliest settings.

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Arman in Les Baux de Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Arman portraitMany towns in Provence play it safe when it comes to exploring the region's rich artistic heritage. But throughout the summer of 2011, Les Baux de Provence embarked on a bold experiment which turns the entire village into a giant installation commemorating the avant-garde artist known as Arman.

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René Seyssaud: Intoxicated With Colour Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Rene Seyssaud, Olive Trees in the Alpilles

Enter the world of René Seyssaud and you plunge into a riot of colour. His intense, emotional images evoke Expressionism and Fauvism without quite belonging to either movement. He brought a brilliant colourist's eye and muscular, off-kilter compositions to rural life in Provence.

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Paul Cézanne in Aix en Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Painting and Photography

Paul Cezanne, Self-Portrait with Bowler HatPaul Cézanne was born in Aix in 1839, where he died in 1906 having spent most of his life there. And there are numerous locations in and around the city where you can follow in his footsteps. This is our guide to the major Cézanne sights in Aix en Provence.

 

 
Hollywood's Provence Print E-mail
Arts and Traditions - Cinema

Russell Crowe in A Good YearPuzzlingly, Provence proper has attracted few English-language productions (unlike the Côte d'Azur, which has often been a magnet for Hollywood). Here, however, are four American films, plus one from Britain, in which Provence plays a key role.

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Related Articles

Nouvelles

Saint Barbara's Wheat in Provence at ChristmasChristmas in Provence starts on 4 December! Read about Saint Barbara's wheat and other local Christmas traditions.

 

Saint Victor Abbey Marseille by nightNow in its 47th year, the prestigious music festival at Marseille's historic, beautiful Saint Victor Abbey continues until 5 December. Last concert: Christmas carols.

 

Provence olive oilProvence's festivals celebrating the season's new olive oil are on in the Alpilles and Aix. 30 Nov-15 Dec.

 

Santa ClausChristmas shopping in Marseille this year features fireworks on the Old Port, giant santons on the Canebière, mulled wine and cakes in the Old Town - and artificial snow on the rue Sainte. From 6 Dec.

 

SkiingHeading to the ski slopes? Here's how to get there from Marseille or Aix by snow bus or snow train.

 

Christmas on the Cours Mirabeau, AixProvence's colourful Christmas markets are opening for business. Find the best fairs and festivals in Marseille, Aix, Avignon, Arles and elsewhere.

 

Descente des BergersCount the sheep (there'll be plenty of them around) at the Fête des Bergers, or Shepherds' Festival, in Istres, on the Blue Coast. Sheepdog trials, sheep processions, a banquet (with roast lamb?) 29 Nov-8 Dec.

 

Rose wine of ProvenceStar billing: Miraval, the rosé wine produced by Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, has just been named one of the top 100 wines in the world.

 

MSC SplendidaWe report from this autumn's Top Cruise conference about the new cruise routes from Marseille in 2014 and the latest developments in the city's booming cruise tourism.

 

Avignon fringe theatre festivalThe summer 2014 dates have now been confirmed for the Avignon "In" and "Off" Theatre Festivals.

 

CalissonsPuzzling over Christmas gift ideas? Here are our top five Provence-themed presents, all available to buy by mail order.

 

Claude Gazier paintingClaude Gazier's moody paintings evoke the smokey atmosphere of vintage film stills. La Ciotat, until 7 Dec.

 

Victoire Belezy as Fanny in Daniel Auteuil's Pagnol trilogyThe first two parts of actor-director Daniel Auteuil's new version of Marcel Pagnol's classic Marius, Fanny, César trilogy, set on the Old Port of Marseile, are now playing in UK cinemas.

 

Marilyn by Andy WarholWarhol, Hopper, Bacon, Magritte, Picasso, Delvaux: diary dates for some of the big art shows lined up for Marseille in 2014.

 

Henri Lebasque Nude Asleep on a BedWomen of Provence, as seen by male painters and by themselves, are the subject of a new show at the Musée Regards de Provence, Marseille. Until 24 Feb 2014.

 

Ballet Preljocac in Aix en ProvenceTake a backstage tour of the Pavillon Noir in Aix en Provence (14 Dec) or watch Angelin Preljocaj and the Ballet Preljocaj in rehearsal (10 Dec). These events are free.

 

Image from the film about the artist Pierre-Auguste RenoirNow available on DVD: France's entry for the Oscars is Renoir, a film about the artist's life shot in the Var near Saint Tropez.

 

Ceramic by Le Corbusier Ceramics, sculptures, tapestries, paintings - and erotic sketches: Le Corbusier was not just a revolutionary architect, as this must-see show at the J1 Hangar, Marseille, reveals. Until 22 Dec.

 

Lucien Clergue's photograph of Le Testament dOrphee in Les Baux de Provence Jean Cocteau's Le Testament d'Orphée was filmed in the Valley of Hell near Les Baux de Provence. A show of photographs by Lucien Clergue, in Les Baux, chronicles the shooting. Until 31 Dec.

 

Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong in Stephen Frears new filmThe disgraced Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong is the subject of a new film by the Oscar-nominated director Stephen Frears, now shooting in the French Alps.