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This year marks a special year for artistic anniversaries in Europe and to celebrate, a number of cities are offering discerning visitors and art lovers a wonderful opportunity to see collections of major works, visit artists' studios and homes and participate in tours and events that pay homage to artistic geniuses. The best examples are in Aix-en-Provence, Amsterdam, Leiden and Barcelona -- cities synonymous with some of the most famous artists over the past several hundred years.

The Year of Cézanne in Aix-en-Provence, France

Although we choose to celebrate Cézanne's life and work, 2006 is actually a hundred years since the artist's death. Born in the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence in the southern French region of Provence, Cézanne's paintings were largely based on the light and color of his native Proven¿al landscape. His art put the city on the international map as the site of Cézanne's greatest inspiration. Aix-en-Provence and the work of Cézanne became forever inter-twined. As a tribute to his greatness, Aix-en-Provence is hosting a major showing of the artist's work -- 80 oils and 30 watercolors -- at the Musée Granat from June 9 to September 17, 2006. Tickets are already on sale from the Aix-en-Provence Tourism Office (www.aixenprovencetourism.com) and FNAC outlets in France. If you can't make it to the south of France this year, you have until May 7 to see this magnificent exhibit a lot closer to home as the show opens in Washington, D.C. at the National Gallery of Art before traveling home to Aix-en-Provence.

Also open to the public will be three studios that Cezanne used during his masterful life:

  • The 17th century Jas de Bouffan estate -- never before opened to the general public -- is where the artist painted some of his most celebrated works. The estate was in Cézanne's family for forty years and its trees and farm buildings were among Cézanne's favorite subjects.
  • The Bibemus Quarries is the location of a small hut that Cézanne rented and used in this ancient stone quarry. The site provided Cézanne with the strange motifs of geometric, ochre-colored rock faces, which he painted in the remarkable series of landscapes that heralded the onset of Cubism.
  • The Studio at Les Lauves was where Cezanne's late masterpieces were painted. Cézanne's last studio in Aix is a place haunted by memory, where the spirit of the master lingers on. His equipment and personal objects are still there, combining with other mementoes and the garden to recreate the atmosphere of his presence.

For more information, visit the official celebration website at www.cezanne-2006.com.

Rembrandt's 400th in Amsterdam and Leiden, The Netherlands

Amsterdam is a city known for its beauty and its famed painters like Van Gogh, Vermeer and its favorite adopted son (he was actually born in nearby Leiden, about 22 miles away), Rembrandt van Rijn. Celebrating 400 years since his birth, the cities of Amsterdam and Leiden have a year long program of events, exhibitions and tours. In Rembrandt's honor, the famous Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is offering several different Rembrandt shows including:

  • "Really Rembrandt" (March 9 to May 24)
  • "Nightwatching by Peter Greenaway" (June 2 to August 6)
  • "All the Drawings Part I: The Storyteller" (August 11 to October 11)
  • "All the Drawing Part II: The Observer (October 14 to December 31)

The adjacent Van Gogh Museum has the Rembrandt-Caravaggio exhibition that will showcase 13 of the artist's rarest works. Visitors can also see Rembrandt's house as it was in 1656 and tour the nearby town of Leiden, where he was born. In fact, there are a multitude of museums throughout the Netherlands featuring Rembrandt themed exhibits including:

  • Amsterdam Historical Museum: "The Essence of Rembrandt"
  • Jewish Historical Museum: "The Jewish Rembrandt"
  • The Mauritshuis Museum (The Hague): "A Summer with Rembrandt"
  • The Biblical Museum: "The Bible and Rembrandt"
  • The Rembrandt House Museum, with five different exhibitions
  • Municipal Museum of Lakenhal (Leiden): "Rembrandt's Mother," "Rembrandt the Narrator" and "Rembrandt's Landscapes"/li>

Even the Royal Carre Theatre has Rembrandt the Musical. In the city of Leiden, enjoy the Rembrandt festival which runs from July 14 to 16, 2006. the historic center of the city is transformed to a 17th century town and historical figures roam the streets. Even bars, restaurants and shops get in on the act.

For more information about different Rembrandt events and activities visit www.visitholland.com. The website also offers a number of packages that coincide with the Rembrandt celebration.

"The Rembrandt and Hotel Leiden" package includes two nights' accommodations at the historic four-star Hotel Leiden, two breakfasts, a three-course dinner at the Het Haagsche Schouw restaurant dating back to 1629 (so Rembrandt may well have eaten there), round-trip train travel from Leiden to Amsterdam, a city walk in Amsterdam plus entry to Rembrandt house, and in Leiden, admission to Lakenhal and a city walk along the Rembrandt route.

Continental Airlines Vacations brings you its "Art City Break" three-day package that includes round-trip direct flight from Newark to Amsterdam, three-nights at the brand new centrally located Eden Rembrandt Square Hotel including hotel taxes and daily breakfast and an Amsterdam Combination Pass for entry to the Rembrandt Exhibit at the Rijksmuseum and travel on the Canal Bus. This deal is priced from $743 and must be booked by December 15 for travel until December 31, 2006.

Cycle Tours Holland (www.cycletours.com) is featuring a Rembrandt-themed tour that takes you to the heart of Rembrandt country on a trek that includes cycling, walking and sailing. The $782-per-person price includes seven nights' accommodations aboard a sailing hotel, three meals a day, museum entrance fees, bicycles and guided walking and cycling tours. Visit Amsterdam, Vianen, Schoonhoven/Nieuwpoort, Rotterdam, The Hague, Leiden, Haarlem and Spaarndam. This tour runs in May, June, July and August, 2006

Picasso 2006 BCN in Barcelona, Spain

This is the 125th anniversary of Pablo Picasso's birth and although not born in Barcelona, Picasso lived and painted there for so many years that he became their favorite adopted son. The Museu Picasso will feature three special exhibits of his works:

  • "Picasso: A Passion for Drawing" (some 200 works) runs through May 8
  • "The Picassos of Antibes" (100 pieces on loan from the Picasso Museum in Antibes) rund July 4 to October 15, 2006
  • "Picasso and the Circus" (highlighting Picasso's fascination with the circus world) runs November 16, 2006 to February 18, 2007

This is also the 100th anniversary of Picasso's return to Barcelona from Paris and the beginning of an epic period in Picasso's artistic transformation, as well as a turning point in 20th century art.

In addition to the three main exhibitions, Picasso 2006 BCN has also organized other activities including concerts, ballet and Picasso themed conferences. Seminari "Gósol: el pròleg de l'avantguarda," which will take place in July at the Picasso Museum with the participation of well known specialists on Picasso's work carried out in Gósol during 1906. From 1916 Picasso collaborated with Ballets Russes, creating sets for the dance company. The three ballets on which Picasso worked will be performed at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona on October 22 and 23, 2006. The University of Barcelona, the Consortium of Libraries, the Ceramics Museum and the Barcelona Tourism Office are all holding Picasso events and a "Picasso Route" has been established in the city.

For more information on activities and exhibitions, visit www.museupicasso.bcn.es. For a 28-page, downloadable pdf brochure, click here.