Remnants of the some of the earliest known human settlements have been unearthed in southern France. Provence is a travel agent's dream but many people have lived their entire lives under what writer Josephine Herbst called a "starched blue sky". One of them was Paul-Camille Guigou (1834-1871), born at Villars and died at Vaucluse,
Guigou was a painter, one of many realists overlooked in the excitement of Impressionism. And it is true that he lived in Paris for awhile from 1862, a necessity for establishing an artistic reputation. It was not long after he became the drawing instructor to baroness de Rothschild in 1871, that Guigou died from a stroke at thirty-seven. We have Roger Marx, a critic whose extremely broad tastes extended tto he avant-garde Felicien Rops and the symobolist Odilon Redon, to thank for making a place at the Paris Universal Expositon of 1900 for Guigou's beautifully measured art.
Southern light is fierce, and Guigou had no need of impressionist stratagems. He excelled at clarity and the distinct existence of each element of a picture. He may have been drawn to paint so many landscapes that extend great distances for the homely reason that the light made it possible to see them. Even in Lavandiere, where the woman at her work is his subject, Guigou has given us a vista that includes part of a bridge, possibly the remains of an antique Roman aqueduct, in the far background.
We get a sense, again, of distance, by comparing one unidentified Provencal landscape with another, The Road to Gineste - near Marseille. It is a woman, walking down a dirt road, who introduces human scale into the picture, effectively preventing us from feeling too cozy with this rugged, long-inhabited land, this place of perpetual summer.
Images by Paul Guigou
1.Vue de Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, 1867, Musee du Petit Palais, Paris.
2. Lavandiere, 1860, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
3.Paysage de Provence, 1860, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
4. Route de la Gineste-pres de Marseille, 1869, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.