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A Symphony in Blue

Caroline Holmes

A glimpse of a Symphony in blue – the artist, the couturier and Atlas the most fabulous mountaine of all Africke




Here are two images that open and close my voyage into the creations of two talented artists and a garden in Marrakech. Firstly, this tourist poster, one of only ten produced by Jacques Majorelle which had a symbolic influence on the portrayal of Morocco, note the backdrop depicting the majesty of the Atlas Mountains – blue, threatening grey and lightly pink on the horizon. The yellow of the arid pastures that form the middle ground, then the architectural Arabian delights and a sense of the exotic. Majorelle is the Orientalist painter artist and Yves St Laurent the couturier artist in this lecture. Majorelle was the third creative generation, his father Louis a cabinet maker in Nancy and his grandfather Auguste decorator of ceramics and furniture. Jacques had trained in Nancy and Paris, in 1917 he was demobilised for health reasons, and was invited to Morocco. The humidity of Casablanca drove him south towards the colourful and sensual oasis town of Marrakech ‘bursting with happy and fecund life’.

In 1919 he married Andrée Longueville, they settled in Marrakech, firstly in a little house near the medina, in 1923 they acquired a palm grove of four acres in which they built a Moroccan villa. Between 1919 and 1930 Majorelle made eight great journeys further south to explore Morocco, his paintings mark the genesis of a simplification, an accentuation of contrasts and a modification of scale that inspired a new school of artists. In 1922 he produced his sole written account ‘Jacques Majorelle, Catalogue of the route of a Painter in the Atlas and Anti-Atlas. Blue juxtaposes with yellow – the blue skies pour radiant yellow echoed in the zellige or decorated tiles that offer a contrasting patterned cool. Majorelle was captivated and adopted an especial shade of cobalt blue which became known, and indeed was patented, as bleu Majorelle. In the 1930’s the French architect, Paul Sinoir, designed a Cubist villa for the Majorelles as they continued to acquire land. The dramatic colours, shapes and forms of the Moroccan landscape were decanted to create luxuriant gardens, framed by bleu Majorelle walls, rills and pools. A living synthesis of his painterly approach that slipped into Sleeping Beauty mode from the 1950s.

In 1980 the vestiges of the Jardin Majorelle were acquired by Yves St Laurent and Pierre Bergé, they restored the colour and plantings with consummate attention to detail. Last year the Musée Yves Saint Laurent in Paris curated the exhibition L’Asie Rêvée d’Yves Saint Laurent, which transferred to the Musée d’Arts Asiatiques, Nice, from 6 April to 6 October 2019. These 1970s collections, embroidered velvet culottes to full evening dresses, displayed extraordinary oriental detail. They were indeed dreams of Asia, when asked about his travels to Asia and Japan, Yves St Laurent replied that his eyes had voyaged the most beautifully illustrated books on the Orient whilst comfortably ensconced in the gardens of the Villa Majorelle. Why suffer physical discomfort when seeking new forms, colours and cuts? It is the imagination that needs to roam without restriction.

The cacti strut and swagger as though on a catwalk, bougainvillea splashes colour across the building and the zillige embroider the fabric. Renoir said he learnt to appreciate the motif of palm trees when he saw them outlined against an Algerian sky, Yves St. Laurent was born there, the palms at Jardins Majorelle reiterate Renoir’s inspiration.

In 2008 Yves St Laurent died in Paris, his ashes were brought here to be scattered and his memorial encompasses the classic broken column and the trunk of a cactus.

Caroline Holmes 30 April 2020


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