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Posts tagged ‘French Riviera’

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 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

largerGeorges Braque - The Port of L'Estaque, 1906 at Summerset House London Englandl-estaque-view-through-the-pines-1883article_image_3_cezanneGeorges_Braque,_1908,_Maisons_et_arbre,_oil_on_canvas,_40.5_x_32.5_cm,_Lille_Métropole_Museum_of_Modern,_Contemporary_and_Outsider_Art

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.

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VIII: Antibes

Of all the places we visited on the French Riviera, I think Antibes was most probably my favourite. Drawn to the old coastal town by its arty reputation, and in particular by its well known connection with Picasso and the museum which now bears his name, we didn’t ultimately end up going to the Picasso museum at all, such were the alternative attractions the town had to offer. For Antibes was all about the atmosphere of its street life – its bustling covered market place, its squares full of cafes and its ancient city walls today imbedded with art galleries – and to enjoy this, one could do no better than to simply stroll. And that is precisely what we did.

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Beginning our visit in the more modern spread of the town, we gasped in delight as we walked along the sandy beach to see the old town in the distance, its silhouette characterised by the rising tower of the Picasso museum, by the old roof of the terracotta and yellow Church of the Immaculate Conception, and by the ancient ramparts which encircle the town. Moving inside those ancient walls under a series of arches and along various beautiful streets, we entered a centre teeming with life, colourful houses, and cafés spilling out onto the pavements.

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Having sampled one such elegant café all decorated in soothing shades of grey, olive and white, we moved out of the town slightly to tour its amply sized marina, full of yachts and sailing craft, and then spent some time on the little beach which is perfectly nestled within the curve of the ancient walls, like a mother’s arm, scooping up sand enough for her child to play in. It was back to the cafés after that, via a multitude of art galleries, colourful shops selling local produce, and sandy squares where locals played pétanque. In the Place Nacionale, we found Antibes’ beating heart in the form of a shady square lined with cafés, bistros and brasseries, and playing host to a busy antiques market, and there, around a fountain which reminded me of the stunning street fountains we had discovered in Aix, we ended the day with a well deserved ice coffee and a glass of wine. Santé!

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown ©2015 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.

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VII: Biot

Admittedly there wasn’t all that much to see in the tiny little Riviera village of Biot in the South of France. We were drawn to the area by the magnificent retrospective museum of Fernand Léger which was located just down the road, and would otherwise have likely overlooked this little hilltop village as we ventured along the coast to the more prominent neighbours of Cannes and Antibes. We had very little interest in the famous “bubble” glass which is made in the village and is at least partly credited with placing the village on the map (the glass has not quite made it into the kind of style echelons that would make it vaguely chic in a contemporary interior design). Nonetheless, we considered Biot worth a quick stroll.

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And indeed it was. For in common with so many others of its neighbouring Riviera villages, Biot is eye-achingly picturesque with its little coloured shutters, village squares and a cute little church to match. Certainly worth a few camera shots, not least because this village distinguishes itself from the masses with a collection of vibrantly curvaceous papier mâché  sculptures placed throughout the town.

Once again, the artistic spirit of the Riviera was omnipresent, and disarmingly beautiful.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 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.

The Honeymoon Suite II: Bedroom at the Château Le Cagnard

The inspiration which, at La Colombe d’Or, had filled the artist within me with a renewed vitality to paint did not leave me when we departed. Having painted the view from our bedroom there, complete with a small slice of our abode, I became intrigued by the prospect of doing so afresh each time we moved hotels and so, when we moved to the hotel Château Le Cagnard in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and when we discovered to our delight a room with an equally stunning view over the mountains north of the Riviera, I started work immediately.

The second of what I have now termed my Honeymoon Suite is therefore painted in the same line as no. 1 of the series, with a unity between the bedroom in which we stayed, and the view we enjoyed daily. From the cosy sage-tinted armchair happily appointed alongside the window, one could enjoy a view not only of the surrounding landscape, but of countless terracotta rooftops upon pastel-coloured houses. It was the very definition of the Provençal landscape.

Honeymoon Suite II: Bedroom in the Chateau de Cagnard (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

Honeymoon Suite II: Bedroom at the Château Le Cagnard (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, gouache on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VI: Cagnes-sur-Mer

Sadly our stay at La Colombe d’Or could not last forever, and for our last remaining two days on the French Riviera, we packed up our things and moved a 20 minute ride or so towards the coast to the unique little old town of Cagnes-sur-Mer. As the name suggests, it’s a town which is well appointed alongside the sea, and also handily close to Nice airport. Split more or less into three parts, it has a coastal town, and upper main town, and an ancient little old town atop a hill (le Haut-de-Cagnes). We had no interest in the first two parts of the triptych, these having been very much ravished by the overdevelopment which in my opinion has cast a horrible shadow over the French Riviera. But the old town, which could never be easily redeveloped such is the character of its ancient steep streets crammed into ramparts hanging on precariously to the edge of a rising highland, was certainly worth further exploration. And luckily it was also where our hotel was situated.

The cemetery of Cagnes-sur-Mer

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We entered Le Haut via a beautiful cemetery, also clustered steeply up hill in rising tiers of decorative stones, crosses and angels. We knew that there was something familiar about it, and were excited to discover that this was the very same graveyard used for scenes of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Having then explored the site, and had our fill reenacting said scenes from this, one of our favourite films, we headed steeply up hill to the old town.

Le Haut-de-Cagnes

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Le Haut-de-Cagnes is a uniquely medieval other-worldly kind of place whose streets appeared even narrower and steeper than those we had enjoyed in Vence and St-Paul. Somewhat shedding the Riviera vivacity of pastel colours, the houses here were altogether more sombre, with stones and beiges dominating with an innately historical result. At times it felt like we were in the world of King Arthur, not least when we got to centre of town, whose huge square castle can be seen for miles around. However lighter relief could also be found in the main Place Grimaldi, which offered beautiful views Northwards to the stunning mountain range which dominates the region.

Rosy views as the sun went down

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However all in all, this historical richness was somewhat spoilt by the inevitable creep of modernity and development, not in the old town itself, but by the views looking south, west and east. For the French Riviera is nowadays far from the wild paradise which tempted the likes of Auguste Renoir to move south to the Riviera, and in fact to the town of Cagnes where he later lived. Today, it is a sprawling metropolis of busy roads, hotels, and villas crammed one upon another. This did not feel like a coast of luxury, but rather one of the busiest tourist destinations I have experienced outside of London. Sadly, the golden years of the world’s greatest artists discovering a ripe Riviera seem to be long past. But at least we have their paintings, to look upon that lost paradise once more.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 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.

 

My travel sketchbook: The Peyra Gate, Vence

I was more than grateful, when we visited the little mountain town of Vence in the South of France, for my own sense of foresight which had prompted me to take along my black bound moleskin sketchbook with me on our trip. For the town was so idyllically beautiful with its pastel-coloured shuttered houses and little cafe-filled cobbled streets that I knew that I would be promptly inspired to create an artwork there. And so it was that after a little exploration around the old town, and a trip to Matisse’s chapel, we settled down for a very english afternoon tea and ice cream besides the ancient Peyra Gate and its equally historic fountain, two such monuments which provided the inspiration for this quick sketch completed in situ.

The Peyra Gate, Vence (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

The Peyra Gate, Vence (2015 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, pen on paper)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part V: Vence

Just up a lush winding mountain road from the beautiful little village of St-Paul de Vence resides its bigger sister, the no less pretty town of Vence. Despite having spread into quite a substantial modern town, not all of which exhibited the most picturesque of sights, the core little old town, nestled within a tight ring of medieval walls and set up on a high hill above a cool mountain spring in the valleys below, is the very epitome of a quaint Riviera gem.

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Through the ancient Peyra Gate into the pastel-coloured square bearing the same name, we entered a medieval fairytale of a town whose shuttered houses, little gift shops and typically French restaurants spilling out onto the cobbled streets and squares made for the most idyllic of scenes. Photographing the picturesque sights as rapidly as I took steps to discover them, I was completely enamoured by this beautifully appointed little gem of a town, from the grand Peyra fountain at the entrance dating back to the early 1800s, to the stunning Place Clemenceau, whose baroque little cathedral is allegedly the smallest Cathedral in France.

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However in addition to the little old town, Vence boasts another attraction which we trekked the 20 minute hot walk out of town to see – the Chapelle du Rosaire designed by Matisse himself. I remember extolling the originality of Matisse’s designs for this little chapel when I visited his cut-outs retrospective at Tate Modern last year. But nothing in that exhibition came close to seeing the Matisse Chapel in reality, with the light shining through his vivid blue and yellow stained glass and bouncing off the white walls of the interior. I wasn’t as sure about the rather sketchy ceramic tiles which otherwise dominate the interior and fell somewhat flat compared to the magnificence of the windows, nor the exorbitant entrance free for such a small space, but seeing Matisse’s chapel surely made our visit to Vence complete.

Chapelle du Rosaire, by Matisse

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The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part IV: Cannes

Cannes. The very name inspires a thousand tales of glitzy summer nights spent alongside yachts overbrimming with champagne, of film festivals with the stars, and dining in the famous Carlton Hotel alongside the palm-fringed parasol-filled beach of the French Riviera. Having long soaked up the reputation of this celebrity hot-spot, we could not resist the temptation to pay a visit to the city, staying as we were mere kilometres away. And while our visit there involved several rather unenviable encounters with the feral French roads and the even worse drivers impersonating something akin to driving upon them, we were excited to arrive in this much reputed city, filled as it was with all of the thrills and frills of the high life.

Cannes sur la plage

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The sophisticated life which brand-Cannes sells was obvious as soon as we arrived. Ladurée macarons sat alongside Dior which in turn neighboured Chanel, which faced Lacoste. Walking onto the beach, the famous domed silhouette of the Carlton Hotel glimmered in the haze of summertime heat, and beyond a rather grotesque film festival cinema building, the charming old town stood quaintly alongside a luxury harbour glimmering in the sunshine.

In the old town restaurants, prices were commensurate with the reputation of the city, and in the shops one quickly got the impression that a lack of money was not easily tolerated in this playground of the rich and famous. So very French Riviera, so very Cannes.

Old town Cannes

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For us, it was a day of mixed emotions. We were charmed by the old town, with its pastel colours, soap-filled souvenir shops and a little church nestled upon a hill overlooking the luxury liners below. We were equally enamoured by the Carlton Hotel, or the outside at least, which we gazed upon with a knowing nostalgia as we remembered scenes of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant from our favourite Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief. 

But beyond these charms, the town was altogether too developed and too busy to be truly admired. True luxury comes from exclusivity, and the exclusivity of Cannes felt superficially imposed by its prices, rather than by the inaccessibility or unspoilt beauty of its location. Rather it was a location spoilt by development, by tourism, and by the ravages of money… the charms of Grace Kelly and the golden age of Hollywood seemed very lacking here. True, with money, Cannes might have its illusions still, but for those with less, being shut out on the outside is less fun. There simply isn’t enough beauty there to keep you enchanted for free.

The famous Carlton

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 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.

My travel sketchbook: Poolside at La Colombe d’Or

Gouaches were not the only art medium which came with me in my suitcase to the French Riviera. Anticipating the ripening of artistic inspiration as soon as I entered the artists’ favourite haunt of St-Paul de Vence, I ensured that I always had a sketchbook to hand. And it was within the first 24 hours that I opened that very same sketchbook, as we once again settled next to the pool of the La Colombe d’Or hotel. With Alexander Calder’s amazing mobile swinging idly just before me, and with the old hotel building ahead bursting with its cover of foliage, I could not resist this beautiful view, and set to work. And here is the result… all conceived in my trusty Staedtler pens. Who needs a pencil?

Poolside at La Colombe d'Or (2015, pen on paper © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Poolside at La Colombe d’Or (2015, pen on paper © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2015. 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. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at www.delacy-brown.com