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L’Estaque Painter’s Walking Trail – ‘Chemin des Peintres’

L’Estaque, on the northwestern tip of Marseille, is considered one the birthplaces of modern art. This small port town is associated with three significant art movements – Impressionism, Fauvism & Cubism. It is here, that some of the greatest artists, such as Cezanne, Derain, Dufy, Marquet, Braque, Friesz, Macke, Renoir and Monticelli came for creative inspiration.

They all painted canvases, capturing the crystal blue seas, the industrial chimney tops, the surrounding green hills, the arches of the viaducts and the brilliant hues of red and orange of the ochres rocks nearby.

L’Estaque only a 10-minute drive from downtown Marseille or a half-hour ferryboat trip which is part of the city’s transportation system.

Looking for a fun thing to do in Marseille? Stroll the Estaque Painters’ Walking Trail

In celebration of L’Estaque’s rich artistic past, the local tourist authority installed a series of panels, displaying how the town was painted from the eyes of different artists. The trail tells a tale of a working-class district, with a strong and colorful soul that drew in the artists from all over France. Much of that old time charm and beauty still remains, and along the Painters’ Trail, you will view L’ Estaque for it’s current beauty and how the artists saw it then.

Please note that with each illustrated panel, you will find information in French and English, detailing different aspects of L’Estaque and the creative arts.

The Painters’ Walking Trail takes around two hours of leisurely walking. Just put on your walking shoes, take bottles of water and have your camera ready for snapping!

The Starting Point of the L’Estaque Painter’s Walking Trail – ‘Chemin des Peintres’

The starting point is at the waterfront, opposite the Le Littoral restaurant (see the map below). To the right is an open space with trees and there is walkway down towards the marina which is signposted as ‘Chemin des Peintres’. Walk along this path until you reach the first panel (1).

Map of L’Estaque Painter’s Walking Trail – ‘Chemin des Peintres’
Map of L’Estaque Painter’s Walking Trail – ‘Chemin des Peintres’

The Panels on The Painters’ Trail in Estaque

Panel One – Place of Inspiration,   Place of Character

The first panel (1) provides a brief overview of the significant artists who found inspiration in L’Estaque. Even the writer, Emile Zola wrote his novel: Naïs Micoulin, which is set in this port town, while staying with his friend Paul Cézanne.

The panel is illustrated with an old photograph taken from this approximate position and an artwork by Georges Braque from a similar viewpoint..

The Estaque, 1906 - Georges Braque
Panel One The Estaque by Georges Braque (1906)
Photo of the Port of Estaque, Marseille, France
L’Estaque today
Photo by François Schwarz (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Georges Braque spent some time here, partly motivated by a feeling of pilgrimage to visit the place where Cézanne had found so much inspiration and who had recently died.

Another of Braque’s iconic images of the waterfront is L’Estaque Harbour , but it was not only the fishing boats bobbing at anchor that provided him with inspiration as we shall see later in the walk.

Panel 2 -Fishing for Tasty Morsels

The second panel (2) was painted by Andre Derain, capturing the fishing heritage of L’Estaque’. Today, you will not find the traditional fishing boats of the past but rather the pleasure yachts of the present. The painting on the panel is entitled: Bateaux de pêches à l’Estaque (Private collection) of 1906 by André Derain.

Bateaux de pêches à l’Estaque (Private collection) of 1906 by André Derain
Bateaux de pêches à l’Estaque (Private collection) of 1906 by André Derain

Panel 3 – The Refuge of L’Estaque

Panel no. 3 called The Refuge of L’Estaque ’ presents two paintings by Paul Cézanne who actually lived in a house on the square for a time (find the plaque on the building). Cezanne obviously chose this location as the views were so beautiful & inspiring. More than a century has passed since Cezanne captured these views but the same combination of red-tiled roofs, deep blue sea & skies still remain.

The first painting on the panel is entitled: The first painting is L’Estaque, effet du soir, 1870–71

L’Estaque, effet du soir, by Paul Cezanne
L’Estaque, effet du soir, by Paul Cezanne

The second painting on the panel is entitled: La mer à L’Estaque, 1882–85.

La mer à L’Estaque, 1882–85 by Paul Cezanne
La mer à L’Estaque, 1882–85 by Paul Cezanne

Panel 4 – Architecture: The open history book of L’Estaque

The Forth panel is called: ‘Architecture: The open history book of L’Estaque’. Although this does not refer to any painting in particular, the information and images provide the context to the work of artists who found inspiration here at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Some of the buildings, particularly the Château Falaise, feature in many works from that era.

Panel 5 – ‘In the footsteps of the master: changing views of l’Estaque’

This panel has been removed, presumably due to vandalism. It is difficult to comment about the content of this panel. I assume that ‘master’ is Paul Cézanne and it is possible that the panel is about him and some of his artworks on this port town.

Panel 6 – Go to the Motif

Panel no. 6 features one art work of Paul Cézanne and two of Georges Braque, all featuring the Riaux viaduct which remains visible today above the red roofs and the rocky hills beyond.

Panel no. 6 - Painters' Trail in Estaque
Panel no. 6 – Painters’ Trail in Estaque
The Viaduct at L'Estaque by Georges Braque
The Viaduct at L’Estaque by Georges Braque
Photo of Riaux viaduct, L'Estaque
Riaux viaduct, L’Estaque
Photo by Darkroom Daze (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Panel 7 – L’Estaque – Spirit of Modern Times

This panel covers the industrialization that was happening all over France and Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was around this time that the railways were built, bringing with it industrialization all over France, and here in L’Estaque.

Like everyone of those times, Paul Cézanne was entranced with the tall factory chimneys. The industrialization appears in quite a few of his paintings of this town. In the painting Usines à l’Estaque, 1865 Cezanne uses a naive style to show the uncompromising impact of the newly built factories on the landscape.

Usines à l’Estaque, by Paul Cezanne (1865)
Usines à l’Estaque, by Paul Cezanne (1865)

Cezanne didn’t like how industrialization was ruining the beautiful landscape and said:

I well remember the Establon and the then so picturesque coastline of L’Estaque. Unfortunately, what is called progress is only the invasion of bipeds, who will not rest until they have transformed everything into horrible quays with gas lights and – what is even worse – electric lighting. What times we live in!” Paul Cezanne

By 1885, Paul Cezanne stopped coming to L’Estaque. The landscape changed too much for his taste, becoming too industrialized, with factories and chimneys cropping up along the shore.

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Panel 8 – A terrace overlooking the sea

This panel refers to the terrace of the old Grand Hôtel de la Falaise which occupies a commanding site above where you are standing. It is now a private residence with no public access but it is possible to catch a glimpse of the distinctive balustrades by walking away from the panel towards the landscaped gardens by the waterfront.

The panel is illustrated with an artwork by the impressionist, Albert Marquet. He loved the geometry of the terraces combined with pine trees, exotic vegetation and the Bay of Marseille beyond. Indeed Marquet created about thirty paintings in L’Estaque, mostly from this viewpoint. Georges Braque and Othon Friesz also painted landscapes from this exact spot.

The Terrace at L'Estaque by Albert Marquet, 1918
The Terrace at L’Estaque by Albert Marquet, 1918
Vintage postcard of the Grand Hôtel de la Falaise, L'Estaque
Vintage postcard of the Grand Hôtel de la Falaise, L’Estaque
Grand Hôtel de la Falaise, L'Estaque
Grand Hôtel de la Falaise, L’Estaque

You have now completed the L’Estaque Painters’ Walking Trail and can now appreciate the less glamorous suburb of Marseille as portrayed by the brush of the artists.

Please note that at certain times of the years, the tourist office also arranges guided tours of the Painters’ Trail for small groups and a small fee. For more information, press here.

For further reading, check out this book on Amazon:

Naïs Micoulin by Emile Zola

Zola wrote this novella while visiting his childhood friend Paul Cezanne in L’Estaque. This short story beautifully captures life in this small fishing village in the late 19th century.

Where you can view Paintings of L’Estaque

L’Estaque, 1906 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris)
L’Estaque Harbour, 1906 (Courtauld Gallery, London)
Landscape at L’Estaque, 1906 (Musée de l’Annonciade, Saint-Tropez)
Viaduc à l’Estaque, 1907 (Minneapolis Institute of Arts)
Viaduc à l’Estaque, 1908 (Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris)
Les Usines Rio Tinto à l’Estaque, 1910 (Musée d’Art Moderne du Nord, Villeneuve-d’Ascq)

L’Estaque, effet du soir 1870–71 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)
La mer à l’Estaque, 1882–85 (Musée Picasso, Paris)
Houses in Provence – the Riaux Valley near L’Estaque, 1879–82
 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)
Le Viaduc à l’Estaque, 1882–85 (Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki)
Usines à l’Estaque, 1865 (Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence)
Viaduct at L’Estaque, 1882 (Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Ohio)
L’Usine, 1908 (Musée Cantini, Marseille)

Terrasse à L’Estaque, 1916–18
 (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nantes)


Rochers à l’Estaque, 1882
 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Further Reading

Press on the articles below for more information about how to travel in the footsteps of the French impressionists in Southern France. Read about the beautiful places that they loved & provided them with so much inspiration