The gift shop adjacent to the house of Jacques Majorelle was very chic. As touristic destinations go, it was very chic indeed – a true boutique – which exhibited all of the hallmarks of Yves Saint Laurent, the subsequent owner of this dazzling blue house and gardens. When, amongst the spectacular YSL pieces and beautifully crafted bottles of exotic Moroccan inspired perfumes I saw a pyramid formed from little cans of paint, my heart skipped a beat. It was Majorelle blue! And while the paint is clearly intended for outside use, I knew as soon as I saw it that with this actual authentic blue, I would paint a work dedicated to the garden: The Majorelle Gardens with Majorelle Blue!
The resulting work, posted here, focuses on the wonderful geometry of the 1920s construction at the heart of the gardens, whose cubist architecture reflects the trends of the time, while the arabesque and arches are truly Moroccan in character. But of course the real star is that ravishing colour, that blue so iconic amongst gardens. But as for the diverse array of cacti which, in reality, almost hide the house, whose wavy, almost quivering shapes are like the hattifatteners of Tove Jansson, vibrating in the moonlight… these I confined to illustration in shadow, hinting at their presence, but not allowing it to dominate. It was a controversial choice for a garden so famous for its abundance, but in this painting I wanted the house, and the colour to shine. Not the plants.
The Majorelle Gardens in Majorelle Blue (© 2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache and Majorelle blue on paper)
I have no idea whether the idea for painting garden walls this resplendent shade of blue came first from Majorelle or is more deeply imbedded into Arabic culture, but it’s funny to observe how entrenched this colour has become into the idea of the Moroccan garden. For me, the place was a true highlight of our Morocco trip, and this painting a highpoint of my Marrakech collection.
© 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
Not everything in Marrakech is pink. Masterpieces are carved out of a rich ochre stone with such intricate geometric embellishment that the stone itself seems to resemble sparkling, resplendent gold. This is the side of Marrakech from Sultans past, when the excesses of power and wealth produced some of the masterpieces of the world’s historical architecture. The Daily Norm is no stranger to some of Islam’s most stunning architectural inventions, having indulged last summer in the jaw-droopingly extravagant craftsmanship of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. But in Marrakech, the journey continued, as ancient masterpieces unveiled themselves within narrow doorways in the crowded Souk, and from amongst the crumbling remains of former palaces. These are places both preceding and inspired by Granada’s famous gem, and no less beautiful in their masterful conception. Some are now in a very bad state indeed. The Badii Palace is a mere shadow of its former self. But across them all one common thread remains: the colour of ochre, butterscotch, Gold.
The Medersa Ben Youssef
The photos on this page are dedicated to three such buildings which we explored during our trip to Marrakech. The Medersa Ben Youssef is perhaps the most extensively and impressively decorated, especially when you consider that it was an Islamic College rather than a palace. Its walls literally weep with honeycomb-like carvings and elaborated horseshoe arches, while perfection in symmetry imbues the space with a finessed tranquility spoilt only by the tourist hoards which inevitably occupy the space.
The Saadian Tombs
Packed with tourists was likewise the trend exhibited by the Saadian Tombs, a complex of some 66 royal tombs which sounded like it was going to be substantial in the guidebook, but was actually little more than a single room preceded by a huge queue and whose entrance was forbidden. Rather tourists were granted a brief glimpse at the tomb room through a very narrow roped off doorway, and the brevity of their indulgence was kept carefully in check by a security guard who looked none too pleased by any such attempt to linger beyond a couple of photographs hastily composed. But it was worth the ill treatment: the tombs were stunning. I have never seen such a highly decorated space so compacted within a small area.
The Badii Palace
But perhaps our favourite of these golden palaces was the Badii Palace, which is funny really since it was also the least attractive in terms of decoration or embellishment. What took some 25 years to complete and was said to have been one of the most magnificent palaces ever constructed is today a mere skeleton of its former self, having had its riches brutally scrapped by a conquering sultan when he decided to move his centre of power elsewhere. Nonetheless there is a definite poetry in what remains, and an impressive sense of the scale of the original gauged from what is left behind. Best of all are the elegant storks who love to nest on the crumbling site, and probably made for the best photos of them all.
The Badii Storks
© 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.
Few places in all the world have the power to arrest the eyes and ensnare the heart quite like the Alhambra in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Glowing every shade of ochre, and pale gold through to deep russet and coral red, it is no wonder that in arabic, the name of the fortress like construct means “The Red One”. But the true treasures of the Alhambra lie in wait inside, where room after room of twisting, tangling geometric patterns, forests of marble columns, and incredibly carved honeycomb like domes seem to reach up into infinity. It is a place which offers visitors a vision from paradise, even when it is (as always) hosting its daily quota of tourists, a sensation augmented by the plethora of pools and trickling waterways, magnifying the space with reflection and filling its stone halls with the gentle harmony of trickles and splashes.
Originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, the complex was constructed into its current state of glory by the Emirate of Granada in the 13th century. Converted into the most lavish royal palace the world had ever seen, it was revered by the reconquering Christians when they took the city in 1492, becoming part of the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and subsequent monarchs. While they embellished the site in turn with Renaissance-style palaces which didn’t quite live up to the beauty of the Moorish offerings, they did so at least in the same glowing gold stone thus creating the complete whole which now permanently characterises the landscape of Granada. Shockingly, the palace was later allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries, until it was rediscovered following the defeat of Napoleon, becoming the favourite of Romantic-age travellers and inspiring generations of artists, poets, and writers since.
Today, unsurprisingly, the site is UNESCO protected and is a ravishing complex of echoing courtyards and colonnaded porticos each enjoying the most incredible views over to the Albayzín below. Lucky then that these hallowed halls should be salvaged for generations to come, where we can but imagine the lives of kings and their hareems languishing in the finest coloured silks by reflective pools and in throne rooms built for the imperial best. Beyond, of course, are the gardens, perhaps the most sensually lavish spectacles of all. But those wonders of nature and man’s creative touch I will leave for another day.
All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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.