Jardin MajorelleA Special Shade of Blue
Majorelle Blue: 37.6% Red, 31.4% Green, 86.3% Blue. It is 64% Saturated, 86% Bright, and 91% similar to Pantone #2726
Leave the snake charmers and juice sellers of Djemaa El Fna behind and plunge into the shadows of the covered souqs. Keep going past the shops selling live chickens and caged falcons, drums and statuary from south of the Sahara. Head north from Spice Square onto Rue Sid Abd El Aziz, and then to Rue El Gza, where the tourists peter out and the Medina gets on with its own noisy life. Follow the narrow street where the smells of cooking are overlaid with more pungent odours of tanning, dyeing, and metalwork, until you reach the city walls. Out beyond the portico, a different breed of chaos takes over. The racket of construction hangs thickly in the air with the concrete dust, and buses laden with passengers laden with belongings weave their way over sticky tarmac. Press on past wasteland, apartment complexes, and air conditioned supermarkets until you reach Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Between two city blocks, the garden lies in wait with a brand new assault on the senses. Inside, there is perfume and shade, the swish of leaves and the hollow knocking of bamboos. Water trickles into tiled pools where goldfish swim.
When Jacques Majorelle bought this land in 1923, it stood outside the city at the edge of a palm grove. His love affair with North Africa had begun a decade earlier, and in 1919, he set up home with his young wife in Marrakech. His colourful paintings of local people and landscapes were proving eminently saleable, so he enlarged his original purchase to four acres, built a Moorish house to live in, and a Berber house to work in. In 1933, architect Paul Sinoir designed him a cubist villa. The bright colours he loved so much crept onto the walls, doorways, and pergolas. He painted his garden like his canvas, with splashes of cobalt and acid citrus. Around the buildings, une cathédrale de formes et de couleurs sprung up as Majorelle slowly created his jardin impressioniste.
The demands of this all consuming project soon outstripped his resources. “This garden is a terrible task,” he said, “to which I give myself completely.” In a vain attempt to balance the books, he opened his garden to the public in 1947, but divorce and bankruptcy led him to selling parts of it off to the highest bidder. A second marriage may have brought happiness, but it coincided with a serious car accident. Failing health and soaring medical bills saw Majorelle sell his last shares in his private paradise by 1961. Just a few months later, after a second near fatal collision, he returned to France to convalesce. He died in Paris, far from his beloved garden and contrary to his prediction that he would “fall exhausted under its branches after giving all my love.”
Yves Saint Laurent never met Jacques Majorelle, but he and his partner Pierre Bergé fell in love with his garden on their first trip to Morocco in 1966. “We were seduced,” he recalls, “by this oasis where the colours of Matisse mingle with those of nature.” They whiled away quiet days in its shaded walkways, finding respite from the heat of the city and a social whirl of parties and fashion shows. They were usually alone on these daily pilgrimages. The garden’s heyday was long gone, and it was neglected and forgotten. By 1980, business was so bad that Jardin Majorelle was slated for demolition to make way for a new hotel. Saint Laurent and Bergé did everything they could to halt the plans, finally buying the property for themselves. They took up residence in the villa, and with a dedication that rivalled Majorelle’s, they began the slow and expensive process of restoration. It was “an inexhaustible source of inspiration” for the designer, and its colours and forms crept into his work. He too died far from the agaves and cactuses, and the croaking frogs in the lily ponds, but unlike Majorelle, who lies next to his father in a cemetery in Nantes, Saint Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the rose garden.
Of all the colours in this painted garden, with its fans of foliage, deep pooling shadows, and waterfalls of bright blossom, one stands out. Majorelle Blue; 37.6% red, 31.4% green, 86.3% blue. It is 64% saturated, 86% bright, and 91% similar to Pantone® #2726. You can find it somewhere in most of Jacques Majorelle’s canvasses – in the gown of a Berber woman perhaps, or the shadowed folds of a distant mountain. The same hue is found on eyelashes and fingernails painted with Yves Saint Laurent’s Nº 18 Bleu Majorelle, and on a signature pair of fringed high heeled shoes. With both of them gone, it is in colour – the colours of Jardin Majorelle – that the work of these two artists lives on.