Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962) was the son of a celebrated furniture designer of Nancy, France. Suffering from heart problems, he came to Marrekesh for his health in 1919 and immediately saw the painterly potential of southern Morocco. In 1924 he acquired land, called himself a “gardenist” as well as an “artist” and began the lifelong project of creating a unique botanical expression around his studio. He opened his garden to the public in 1947. Upon his death in a car accident the property fell into disorder — until it was rediscovered by couturier Yves Saint-Laurent and his artist-friend, Pierre Berge. Majorelle’s Art-Deco-inspired studio, painted the original bright blue, is now a museum and gallery of Majorelle’s work. Travelers wander among exotic plants and spectacular cacti. If technology serves us well, I’ve asked Andrew to include some Majorelle works and other shots in today’s responses.
I’ve always been curious about the old rule that “blue and green should not be seen without another colour in between.” The combination in Majorelle’s garden really rattles your molars. The variety of natural greens seems to electrify the hard, strongly painted blue that is said to be “cobalt.” Majorelle had noticed the colour in Moroccan tiles, Berber burnouses, and around the windows of everything from kasbahs to native adobe homes. In southern Morocco you can’t miss it. For a while in the thirties and forties some artists’ colourmen were offering “Majorelle Blue.” I made the colour by using ultramarine, white and rose-red.
Morocco is a moving feast of complexity — crowds, repetitions, contrasts, colours, energies, light. Many painters would make the impressionist choice. Not so Jacques Majorelle. He solved problems with simplified drawing and linear, often outlined design. Posteresque, almost Nordic, his work heads toward abstraction while maintaining control of subject matter. Interlocking patterns of dark, light and local colour complete the illusion that there is more than what there is.
PS: “When we arrived in Marrekesh, Yves and I were utterly seduced by the beauty and the magic. What we did not expect was that we would fall in love with a small, mysterious garden, painted in the colours of Henri Matisse and secluded in a bamboo forest, all silence, deeply sheltered from noise and wind. This was the Majorelle Garden. Years later, quite by chance, we came into possession of this jewel and set about saving it.” (Pierre Berge)
Esoterica: Jacques Majorelle’s work can also be seen in Marrekesh in the famed Mamounia Hotel. Winston Churchill was a frequent guest and painted here as well. This afternoon I sat for several hours in the hotel garden, smoked a big cigar, and repeated one of Winston’s views.
Jacques Majorelle in Marrekesh, Morocco
Blue and green
by Bill McCaffrey
In art school I wrote a paper on visual acuity. In my research I found that if you put blue beside green with the value and hue just right, for good or bad, the edge between the two is almost indiscernible.
Never heard of it
by Ruth Suehle, North Carolina, USA
I’m curious about “blue and green should not be seen without another colour between.” I’ve never heard the saying, and a google search for it and variations on it comes up with nothing. Could you tell me more about it?
(RG note) An art teacher of mine, Will Menelaws, used to say it as if it was some sort of an immutable truth. I’ve heard it from time to time since. I’ve always thought it had something to do with the similarity of the two (see letter above) but one does not hear the same restriction for orange and red. As equal intensity lay-bys, blue and green feed off one another and create a sophisticated, if understated, razzle-dazzle. I’ve always liked it. John Singer Sargent, for one, sometimes used blue as an effective inner sparkle within the green of trees or on reflective clothing.
Blue Green Feng Shui
by Gerti Hilfert, Langenfeld, Germany
I never thought that Art History could be that interesting! You make it different from the usual learning aids — so much alive — much better than some college lecturers mostly do. I always loved the blue-green combination — since I was a child and I believe they’re MY colours (Feng Shui). Just as black and white — as it was told — are not “colours,” you will find a “blue and green” composition in my work.
Traditions in need of breaking
by Jan Woodford, Oregon Coast, USA
As a teenager, blue and green were never worn together! And what a shock it gave me in my early adulthood when a friend gave me a two-piece dress with a green top and a blue bottom! “Unheard of!” as Tevya says, in “Fiddler on the Roof” (referring to something else entirely). Now I would think nothing of wearing blue and green together, putting them together in home decoration, and have certainly used them together in my paintings. I shall have to rethink whether there are other art related traditions that need to be broken.
Joys of Morocco
by Mary Jean Mailloux, Oakville, ON, Canada
So tell us Robert, what are you eating? Please remind us of the beautiful grapes and the tajeens laden with cous-cous and honeyed lamb with almonds. Tell us of the daily-made caraway bread. Please remind us of the souks and the communal ovens, what about the casual camel crossings? I think one of the responses after your last letter was really on the money (no pun intended) when she wrote that wealth was not only measured by personal possessions.
(RG note) The lambs here are gamboling one minute and wholly on your plate the next. Chickens are wrung and plucked while you wait. It’s enough to make a person vegan. I withdraw mostly to the pyramids of vegetable cous-cous and leave a great deal to the friendly cats. I never touch camel.
by Ellen Smith Fagan, Rockville, CT, USA
You are very brave to go into volatile Tunisia, Morocco, etc., during Ramadan, no less…but, you know what? I had my mom-attack over it and will be glad when you are back!…all ten fingers, all ten toes.
(RG note) Thanks for your concern. I feel safe even in the dark souks and among gangs of men and boys. It’s the joyous children who give the confidence. They are for the most part happy, well groomed, polite, seem to relate with each other and have respect for adults and the elderly. There is great spirit in the families, a sense of caring and community, and everyone seems for the most part to be better adjusted individually than in some Western cultures.
by Mohammed Kube
You forgot to mention that Majorelle was an enthusiast for Islamic art. While he put a lot of effort into his garden — which he created over four decades from a windswept desert, he also collected and encouraged decorative Moroccan architecture and images old and new. The craft of carved plaster particularly was often included in his projects and he was instrumental in reviving it. The enlarged studio of Majorelle that now stands on that property contains a significant collection of Islamic art.
by Lucinda Howe, Columbia, SC, USA
You certainly hit upon a hot topic for me in today’s letter. I’ve seen pictures of Majorelle’s garden and dreamed of visiting it. In the meantime, I have painted a concrete retaining wall in my own garden “cobalt” and find continuing inspiration in the friction of blue and green!
Standards in print numbering
by Chris Woodland, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Are there any standards of printing Limited Editions? I have come into a conflict with a gallery interested in my work. I have been selling my work as Limited Editions based on size. For example: 20×20″: Edition of 50, 24×24″: Edition of 50, 30×30″: Edition of 25, 36×36″: Edition of 15.They say this is not the correct method, but I have been doing this for a while with no conflict before, and know of several other artists that do the same, and know of Galleries that offer to sell and print LE work in the above fashion based on size. However, the interested gallery believes that the only structure for Limited Edition prints is that there is one number, say 250 prints, for any given image, and that’s it. You can print that image in whatever size but they are all part of the same edition number. Are smaller editions based on size not acceptable? Seems odd to me. I think it makes sense that one puts different limits on different sizes if they want to, and prints the image as different editions based on scale. But is it deemed acceptable in the art world, and what is the standard expected by collectors?Tell me if I am wrong, as it seems that the whole LE debate has no real standards, and there are a lot of grey areas.
(RG note) Different merchandising and numbering methodology has been used in the print and reproduction business to extend the life, price range and salability of given images. Your system is one of them. You are right — standards are sketchy. But I would be a bit careful with this one because the general public when buying one of your 36x36s for example, might think that only fifteen were struck. Annoyance occurs when the customer finds out there are 25 more in which the only difference is that they are slightly smaller.In the attempt to attain perceived rarity, the whole business of LE prints and reproductions has turned into an area of “buyer beware.” This is generally perceived by the art world and by knowledgeable collectors as one of its weaknesses.In the attempt to attain perceived rarity, the whole business of LE prints and reproductions has turned into an area of “buyer beware.” This is generally perceived by the art world and by knowledgeable collectors as one of its weaknesses.
Shipping to the UK
by Lynne Woloshyniuk, Penticton, BC, Canada
I have had the good fortune to sell a painting to a couple in England. I would appreciate your wisdom on the best and least expensive way to ship it.
(RG note) From the US and Canada, if it’s small, say under 20×24 inches, the regular post office is good and cheap. Larger, you will have to contact United, Purolator, or one of the others. United gives good foreign service and often helps you with customs declarations. I use Purolator. A tip: Try to arrange with your customer to receive unframed. They like different frames in England — it’s often best to have them do it to their taste — and besides, frames are not duty free — like paintings.
Oil painting cracking
by Graeme Shaw, Nanaimo, BC, Canada
I have a recent oil (six months) that shows spidery cracking in some areas. I used an acrylic base and I suspect it was not dry. I also used a small amount of dryers and a product called Liquin. Any thoughts?
(RG note) It’s most important that any water-based underpainting be thoroughly dry. This is the most likely scenario. However, Cobalt Dryer and/or Japan Dryer should be used very sparingly. Liquin is supposed to be an inert oil based extender that is valuable for glazing and other effects. Shake well before using. It also has dryers in it. There could have been a build-up at the mouth of the bottle. I recommend sanding the offending parts and repainting — then re-varnishing to pull it together. Of course some artists are using craquelure to good effect as part of the texture and design these days. It is necessary to hold these effects with a solid varnish.
by Laurel Johnson
If you ever need a subject, how about sun spots? When the flares started, your letter never arrived, and I had you send it to my hotmail address, which you can now cancel. Three emails I had sent to my husband in 2000 and 2001 suddenly arrived as a “mailer daemon” Where were they for three years? — maybe on the dark side of the moon. Ah, the mysteries of the universe. But to see all the images of artists from all over the world is so magical. We who are semi technical-literate are truly blessed by the inspiration of others.
(RG note) With all of the problems we have with the infant internet — I still believe it is the greatest potential tool and hope for universal understanding, evolved communication and the advancement of knowledge. It’s worth staying connected even if you have to readdress yourself once in a while. Still better than looking for stamps.
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That includes Deann Rex who wrote, “How sad that such a sensitive man as yourself is slowly killing himself with cigars, robbing yourself and the world.”
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