Plein Air Painting en Provence

Annabel Williams ’22

En Provence with Amelia Myre '20

Tucked away in the beautiful Aix-en-Provence landscapes of Cézanne’s paintings is the Marchutz School of Fine Arts—“a true gem,” as Amelia Myre ’20 described it. Amelia, who is on a gap year studying the impressionist painting style and its intersections with literature, philosophy, and nature, has found her happy place in Aix-en-Provence. As an artist myself, it truly does seem like an artist’s dream. But Amelia’s experience has been about so much more than the art itself, she said. Since arriving, she has built strong relationships with friends and mentors, grown to love her host family, become fluent in French, and learned to view the world a little differently. 

The GDS grad followed the same art progression I am currently completing at the High School: introductory, advanced, and AP drawing and painting. “Michelle gave me such a phenomenal base of technique and always emphasized applying oil paint one stroke at a time,” she told me about one of GDS’s fantastic art teachers (and chair of the Visual Arts Department), Michelle Cobb. Amelia particularly loved the plein air painting lessons Michelle has taught for years at GDS.  The style is also most similar to the art Amelia is studying now in France. Amelia talked about the Marchutz School’s philosophy as being rooted in working from nature, committed to the value of first impressions, and observant of unity in the world, its colors, and its spaces. 

Based on the painting philosophies of Cézanne, Rembrandt, and Giacometti, Amelia’s professors emphasize the realness and rawness of first impressions and only allow their students to work on a painting for one session. The students have been painting one piece a day, learning to be less focused on covering the canvas and instead value the experience of painting from the world in front of them—the stunning landscapes, striking cathedrals, and still lifes constructed from trinkets and fruit collected at Aix-en-Provence's outdoor markets.

The Marchutz School, as Amelia told me, is also called “the school of vision,” teaching its students to see the world (nature, humanity, colors, values, etc.) as a whole. The school approaches art holistically and encourages using at least three different senses at a time while working on a painting. This lesson—of always looking for integrations and connections—serves as one of Amelia’s primary takeaways from her studies in Aix-en-Provence. 

“Nothing is separable from the rest in life,” Amelia said, speaking from an artist perspective and a human perspective. Amelia will be returning to DC to study International Politics at Georgetown University in the fall. She anticipates that the life lessons she’s learned from the Marchutz School will definitely influence how she views each facet of her life, including her studies at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. She hopes to remember all she has learned about being observant in a world full of intersections and broader connections. 

In addition to the impressionists' ideas of congruency, art also relates to life by being “always a constant struggle towards somewhere unknown,” she said. Still, there are moments of such beauty in the struggle. Amelia’s favorite moment of the year so far was arriving at Monet’s garden at sunset with barely more than an hour to produce a painting of the scene. Observing and painting the dusk colors as Monet would, Amelia began filling her canvas with colors, not knowing what she would walk away with, but knowing it did not matter because the beautiful struggle itself was more than she could ever ask for. 

UPDATE: The Marchutz School awarded Amelia the Purchase Prize during her 2021 semester. Learn more about the Marchutz School on their website.

Follow Amelia’s art on Instagram @AmeliaMyreArt. Bonus #Hopper4Life connection: Amelia’s professor at the Marchutz School is GDS alum O'Neill Cushman '07. She was also introduced to the school by Nick Velleman '07, who also used to be a substitute teacher at GDS.



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