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Casa Andaluz

My arrival in Marbella always coincides with a notable heightening in my artistic powers. Something in the air combines with the enveloping heat and the culturally visceral soul of Andalucia to arouse within my mind a flowering of creative inspiration. It’s why, over the years, I have painted some of my favourite artworks in my family’s little jasmine filled garden patio, an open air studio of which the Impressionists themselves would have been proud, and to which I swiftly returned this past summer.

Not even the marked increase of pesky tiger mosquitos could keep me from my canvases, especially since I had two paintings in mind and only 8 days in which to paint them. The first, based on our Marseille trip, I have already shared. But its completion was followed swiftly by a canvas of identical size, marking the Spanish limb of our trip.

Andalucia House FINAL

Casa Andaluz (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017 – acrylic on canvas)

Characterised by the burnt, olive-peppered landscape of Southern Spain, and dominated something of an abstract Andalucian house at its centre, Casa Andaluz is a work which celebrates the essence of Andalucia: its sun-baked white washed walls, the spirit of Flamenco which fills the minds and souls of its people, the religious faith which remains strong in the region, and the deeply ochre, unforgiving but beautiful landscape which underpins the region. With its palette of golden brown and olive green, it is a painting which has the look and feel of Andalucia, with its rough textures and unplanned lines. It is therefore a clear homage to this imperfect region which is, in so many ways, the unbridled soul of Spain.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

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Marseille to Marbella, Part VIII: Home Sweet Home

No matter how riveting the travel or how dazzling the sights, there is nothing quite like coming home, especially when that home happens to be combined with a holiday. For I am lucky to call Marbella, as well as London, my home, and every year I look forward to heading down to Andalucia, to the jasmine-perfumed, sun-baked land of my youth, and the ever present inspiration of my adult years. So, much perfumed, sun kissed, and infused with something of a je ne sais quoi spirit, we left Marseille and the lavender filled hills of Provence, and flew down to the earthy, olive-honeyed lands of Southern Spain. We had finally made it from Marseille to Marbella.

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Marbella has featured countless times on The Daily Norm, as is only appropriate for my second home, and each time I feel the need to justify the town’s place as one of Andalucia’s true gem. The fault is the ravages of tourism and crass hedonism, although this species of club-land savagery is luckily limited to the outskirts of Marbella’s coastal sprawl and has left the charm of the casco antiguo – where our home is to be found – quite mercifully untouched. Marbella for me is no club land. It is, instead, a place of true calm. Where bird song fills the air, the smells of garlic and seafood, barbecued sardines and sweet evening jasmine waft in perfumed waves, and the sound of the sea resonates across the town.

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Like the face of a favourite grandmother, Marbella is a town whose sun-baked walls are cracked with age, and its streets warped from the passage of time, but it is a place whose history has been preserved in every layer of its thickly white-washed walls, and which unites with its locals and countless bars, restaurants and little boutiques to make it one of the most welcoming and quaint towns on Andalucia’s magical Mediterranean coastline. And above all things it is my home. How lucky I am to say it.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part VII: Aix, Le Marché

Colour, colour, colour! Shiny red apples, ruby like strawberries, resplendent silver fish and emerald green herbs. Courgettes in forest green, sage green, yellow green and white, blackboards written with curly french writing. And king of it all those sunflowers: a full, powerful sunshine punch of yellow with a deep fury chocolate brown at its centre, signalling the very epitome of this Provençal heartland. This is the market of Aix-en-Provence, the sensory spectacle to which I rushed on my birthday morning, and which is such a sight for the eyes that it deserves a post all of its own.

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I can only imagine how Paul Cezanne, famous son of the city, became inspired by the bustling, vivid life of Aix’s morning market. Who could not become an artist when basking in the glories of a sun filled square, filled with stripy umbrellas casting a warm glow over stalls full of just-picked produce and carefully nurtured harvests. Yet despite its beauty, this is no artwork to be admired on a gallery wall: The beauty of le marché in Aix is that it continues to be such a vital cog in the life of the city. It is a place for bargaining and butchering, for perusing and tasting. And in Aix’s market, watching the picky locals carefully choose the very best from an already magnificently presented selection was almost as captivating for me as the produce itself.

The market of Aix is a king amongst European street markets. Not big, not intimidating, but utterly authentic and wonderfully, completely charming.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

My Travel Sketchbook: A Fountain in Aix

I dragged my trusty travel sketchbook all the way down to the South of France, and in my bag from Marseille to Cassis to L’Estaque. Yet it wasn’t until we got to Aix-en-Provence that I was inspired to take it out, and begin sketching the romantically quaint streets of this Provençal gem. Aix is a town of such interrupted charm that any part of the place could have been picked at random and replicated as a painting or sketch. Yet for me, Aix’s enduring appeal arises in the trickling of its fountains, be they wall-mounted masterpieces or the large round basins from which statues peruse the streets and spray water high into the air while around them diners sit and enjoy the somniferous trickle.

A study of Aix’s many fountains could easily occupy a day, at the very least, especially if you take time to sit back and enjoy a glass or two of rosé wine alongside their ripped waters. It was a study which inspired my painting of Aix’s many fountains shortly after my last trip to the city, yet the hours of work which that painting required did not render them commonplace in my eyes. Rather, it was one of my favourites of the lot – the fountain just off the Cours Mirabeau, with a three dimensional star crowning its apex- which finally encouraged me to reopen my sketchbook to the light of day. This is the result.

Aix Sketch

Aix, street detail (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017, pen on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Marseille to Marbella, Part VI: Aix, Le Birthday Boy

I adore Aix-en-Provence. Apart from the inimitable Paris, it is undoubtedly my favourite city in France. Elegant, leafy, filled with bustling squares and trickling fountains, it is a city which is inescapably gentrified, and which exudes a real sense of cultural enrichment and a proud artistic heritage which resonates at every corner. Ever since we first went back in 2013, a visit which led to my painting, Aix: City of a Thousand Fountains, Aix has held a prominent place in my heart. If you want true Provence, the kind of Provence which you’ve seen on postcards or dreamt about in visions framed by lavender-scented cobbled streets and rosé wine supped amongst stripey-shirted waiters and vichy table-clothes, this is really it. Aix is a veritable feast of pretty squares and idyllic leafy shopping streets. Dare I say that it is close to perfect?

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So when we decided to head down to Marseille around the time of my birthday, Aix had to feature, and given that it is truly my favourite place in the region, it felt like the perfectly appointed seat of celebration for my impending anniversaire.  Soon enough we were bedded into a lovely little attic room in the Hotel des Quatre Dauphins (very La Bohème) named after the four dolphin fountain of the same name which trickles away in this very ochre-coloured stately area of Aix. Within seconds we were on the main leafy thoroughfares of Aix, where Cezanne, Aix’s most famous son, used to sip on wine and consider how best to capture the nearby Mount St Victoire. And all around we were surrounded by cafes and galleries and boutiques aplenty. During 24 hours in Aix we must have seen over 200 paintings in exhibitions which ranged from the Jaeger collection to a retrospective of Sisley landscapes. We had breakfast opposite the multi-coloured food market (more about that later in the week), lunch in the imperial surroundings of the Hotel de Caumont and dinner in a tiny patio hung with decorative laundry and bourganvilla. Could there be a better way to spend a birthday?

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So once again Aix proved to be the perfect Provençal destination, and a flawless birthday gift. It’s one of those towns which seems to glow with a golden sheen, like Rome whose streets bask in the reflected light which bounces of its terracotta walls. Here the effect is created by walls painted in butterscotch and caramel, and reflected across the streets with the aid of sunlight magnified in trickling fountains. It really is an aesthete’s paradise. That’s why Aix can make a Cezanne of us all.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Savon Marseillais

You simply can’t miss the soap of Marseille. Through the urban smog and the strong pervasive smell of the sea penetrates the comforting scent of clean, creamy soap in various scents of lavender, verbena, orange blossom and rose. Marseille is famous for its soap. Whether it be the Savon de Bonne Mere, or the eponymous Savon de Marseille chic liquid brand by Campaigne de Provence, soap is one of the region’s strongest exports, and the very best way to bring the memory-inspiring perfumes of the Riviera into your home. Perhaps the most impressive sight in Marseille and the surrounding towns is a shop loaded, floor to ceiling, with the famous cubes of Marseille soap. This is when the variety of dazzling scents and colours can be appreciated to their full, and it was this sight which was triggered again in my mind when I saw the pastel coloured houses of nearby Cassis: Suddenly the two themes combined, and a painting was born.

Marseille FINAL

Savon Marseillais (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017 – acrylic on canvas)

This is the result: a canvas which has Marseille soap at its heart and dictating its colour palette, with the rich olive soap which is one of the most famous varieties dominating. Featuring too are the multi-coloured houses of Cassis, together with the railway bridges of L’Estaque, and the striped beach paraphernalia which has come to characterise the Riviera. All in all, this is a painting which represents our time in Marseille and its environs, a time when we munched on local sardines, enjoyed the sea and mountain scenery, and best of all things, smelt and indeed lathered up using the local Savon Marseillais.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Marseille to Marbella, Part V: Cassis

As soon as we stepped out of the train station at Cassis, the little port town a few kilometres East of Marseille, I declared that I was in love. The smell of heated pines, coupled with the accompaniment of persistently chirping cicadas was confirmation that we had entered a kind of Mediterranean paradise. That conclusion was further fortified as we made our way closer to the coast, and found plunging into a slightly opaque dazzlingly turquoise sea steeply cast mountains rippling with shades of terracotta and violet. But best of all was the harbour itself, a kind of St Tropez in miniature, with splendidly multi-coloured houses in every shade of pastel lining the waterfront, while before them, a veritable collective of fishing boats and yachts added luxury to the scene.

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Living in Mallorca for close on 3 years means that this kind of glittering seaside scene is no stranger to me. Yet there is something about a port in the French Riviera that exudes a kind of innate elegance which is somewhat less tangible elsewhere in the Med. Maybe it’s the old men gathered drinking pernod and exchanging gossip in the tree-lined squares which neighbour the harbour. Or perhaps it’s the perfume of Marseille soap and lavender which manages to pervade and harmonise with the delicate scent emanating from the sea. Or maybe it is the cafes and bistros, whose location affords them the very freshest of seafood and extravagant shell fish, and of course the very best in chilled Provencal rose. I’m not sure I can truly put my finger on what it is that singles out these Riviera havens, but I know that Cassis is as insuperably handsome as it gets.

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A few minutes was all we needed to located the best table alongside the waterside, a large plate of gigantic grilled prawns and several glasses of rose so cold that ice clung to the side of the gently perspiring wine glass. Somewhat heady on all that peach-coloured elixir, we wafted around the port like fallen bourganvilla petals dancing in a light summer’s breeze, utterly caught up in the aesthetic delights of the place. That momentum pushed us towards the emerald sea, and there in water frothed up by a robust Mediterranean current, we plunged into the ambient waters from where Cassis appeared all the more stunning.

Compared with the urban cacophony of Marseille, Cassis proved the ultimate Riviera balm; a true treasure of the French Mediterranean whose soft palette and pervasive elegance ensnared our senses and charmed our imagination, long after the Riviera train scooped us back into the smoggy fold of Marseille.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part IV: L’Estaque

Any art historian or Impressionist aficionado will recognise the name L’Estaque even if they cannot bring a vision of the place immediately to mind. Today, this small fishing village could be easily missed. It is now but one suburb merged involuntarily into the insuperable urban sprawl of Marseille. Yet 100 years ago it was at the centre of an artistic movement. Not only did the port and the surrounding landscapes inspire some of the most preeminent forefathers of Impressionism, but it is also credited as being instrumental to the birth of the Cubist movement.

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How and why cubism came about here is unclear, but Cezanne, a forerunner of the movement, was evidently as inspired by the geometric volumes of the railway bridges and houses clinging to the hills as he was by the hard-edged stone quarries near his birth city of Aix. But it was perhaps the contributions of Georges Braque which were to be the most significant. While his initial response to the landscape was a fauvist expression in a multi-coloured palette of startling bright tones, it was his decidedly cubist landscapes depicting L’Estaque’s house-filled hillsides which really put the town, and cubism, on the artistic map.

L’Estaque by Braque and Cezanne

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Given its place in art history, I felt that this little former village had to be on our Marseille itinerary, even though for many, it may go unnoticed. Happily we were able to take a boat the 30 minutes along the bay – a far preferable trip to the alternative of a sweaty commuter train out of the Gare St Charles – and this approach gave us  the advantage of seeing the hillsides of L’Estaque from afar, characterised as they are by the arched railway bridges which feature so predominantly in Cezanne and Braque’s landscapes.

I would be lying if I said that we were blown away by the town. It is, in essence, a very simple seaside village with a hand-full of bars and a port packed with fishing boats. It is also somewhat difficult to imagine the quaint village which Braque and Cezanne might have discovered when they arrived years ago, free from the modern industrial structures which sit just outside the town, and the tall wire fencing which closes off much of the port from view. However, once we strolled up into the higher streets, and looked across both the port and the rooftops of the gradually ascending town, suddenly the shapes and volumes which must have inspired that new cubist way of depiction fell into place, and the true artistic significance of L’Estaque gained clarity.

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Satisfied, therefore, by our trip and the insight it provided into the birth of cubism, we grew fonder of L’Estaque, a notion which a few glasses of rosé on the sunny portside promoted. And then, as though reminding us that a contemporary society also lives today in this town of cubist history, a bugle call and a loudspeaker announced the commencement of Le Joute – a form of water based jousting which captured our attention for the remainder of the afternoon. Only then did we head back onto the water, gliding away from L’Estaque in a boat bound for Marseille, watching behind us as the forms of houses and rail bridges grew smaller until they resembled mere cubes on a craggy hillside…

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part III: Waterfront Renaissance

The shady reputation which has dogged Marseille for years was, at least in part, shaken off in the run up to 2013 when the epithet of European Cultural Capital for the year prompted France to pull put all the stops to initiate a revolutionary new look for a waterfront in decay. Sweeping away much of the city’s industrialised port, and making magnificent new use of the ancient stone fortresses which stand like a gateway to the city and recall the age of Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo, the city embarked on an architectural and cultural renaissance which has reinvented the city’s place on Europe’s artistic map.

MuCEM and the Fort St-Jean

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The result is a new waterfront which combines a freshly gentrified old neighbourhood with the implantation of stunning new architecture to produce a dazzling display of cultural verve immediately alongside the Mediterranean sea. Central to the architectural revolution is the Musée des Civilisation dÉurope et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM), a masterly conjoining of a Rudy Ricciotti’s striking modern cube, covered from top to bottom with what looks like a giant lace mantilla, and, across a vertiginous narrow footbridge, the restored Fort St Jean, which today is awash with Mediterranean inspired gardens and striking sculpture. This combination of ancient and modern works surprisingly well. Both buildings are imposing and structural, but in their newly polished finish look dazzling, particularly at night. Next door to MuCEM another striking addition is the Villa Méditerranée, featured in Stefano Boaeri’s striking cantilevered construction which appears to defy gravity as it bends horizontally across a pool of Mediterranean water. 

The Villa Méditerranée and MuCEM by night

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But this waterfront would not be complete without the church which stands guardian over it all: the Cathédrale de la Major. Wedged between the sea and the district of Le Panier, the imposing 19th century structure looks like a cross between the Sacre Coeur in Paris, and Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. It’s stripes stone construction seems to echo the typical dress of Riviera beach goers, while adding a touch of elegant sobriety to this newly revolutionised cultural hub.

The Cathédrale de la Major

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Marseille to Marbella, Part II: Le Panier

It’s a story which is far from unique: European city, ravaged by the horrors of war, its architectural and cultural heritage trampled into dust by the unforgiving swathe of brutal violence – territory grabs without sensitivity nor foresight, all in the name of victory. Many of Europe’s ancient treasures were destroyed this way, when mass invasions and forced occupations brought with them a path of historical vandalism from which a full recovery has never been made. And Marseille is no exception. For on on the old Vieux Port, only the Renaissance style Hotel de Ville and the Hotel de Gabre remain as a reminder of what the grand old Marseille waterfront would have been in its golden age. The rest was cleared in mass explosions executed by Nazi occupiers who feared the uncontrollable warren of Marseille’s ancient streets, and the potential for hiding in them the “undesirables” they sought to eradicate.

And so, of this uniquely charismatic area of ancient Marseille, Le Panier, only the upper town remains today. Its previous quaint waterside was eradicated in one devastating act of destruction, only to be replaced by the horribly charmless art deco apartment blocks which remain to this day. Yet behind the port, up on the slopes of ancient Marseille, the old core of Le Panier remains, the merciful survivor of Nazi occupation, and clear example of how the city would at one time have looked.

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The streets of Le Panier carry a lazy, bohemian milieu characterised by a clearly artistic streak and a decidedly gritty, urban edge. Streets lined by painted shutters and washing hung out to dry are also decorated by large graffiti murals which give an indication of the creatively rebellious inhabitants who occupy the area. Steep slopes give way to quaint restaurants, and the area’s bars and shops are simple and unassuming. Streets are unplanned, cobbled and hilly, but they bare the signs of centuries of unceremonious habitation – the cracks of age and the scars of competing modes of expression.

While resembling something of the charm that the surrounding area of Provence exudes in bucket loads, Le Panier is as authentically urban as it gets. This is the hard edge to the Riviera’s soft, lavender-scented tourist-friendly facade, and is a quintessential representation of a modern Mediterranean city anchored in its history.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.