Painters I Should Have Known About (007) Jacques Majorelle

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Louis Majorelle by Jacques Majorelle, 1908

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to fathom the reasons why one hasn’t heard of an artist who might be well known by other people.

In the case of Jacques Majorelle, I guess that my reason for not knowing him is that the majority of information about him is in French, and that his work is now so widely dispersed that it has yet to be brought together for a major retrospective exhibition, although there has been a book published about him (in French) since his death in 1962.

In other words, he’s stayed just below my radar.

The picture above provides another reason why Jacques Majorelle is less well known than he might be.

He had a very famous father: Louis Majorelle. To call Majorelle pere a furniture designer would be almost slanderous. He is much better and more exotically described by the French term: ebeniste. Louis was a prominent member of a group of designers who specialised in the Art Nouveau, and although much of his work was with furniture, he produced many other decorative objects from lamps to textile designs. Here’s an Artcyclopedia search link.

Oddly enough, even when you do know a little about Jacques Majorelle, it is frustrating trying to research him and his work. There’s a site called Insecula that allows you to search through all the major museums of France. If you look for “Majorelle”, it’s only his father, Louis, that turns up in the results.

Jacques was born in the town of Nancy, France in 1886. Here he is at the age of 4:

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Jacques Majorelle aged 4, by Victor Emmanuel Prouve.

He went to l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Nancy, then later moved to Paris where he studied at the Academie Julian. This atelier was a true nexus for the revolutionary upsurge in French painting in the second half of the 19th Century.

By 1908, Majorelle was travelling and painting in Spain and Italy, and then in 1910 he had his first encounter with the Arab world when he landed in Egypt.

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The Nile Near Luxor

Majorelle felt irresistibly drawn to the Arab world and returned to Egypt every year until the outbreak of World War 1 in 1914. He was invalided out of the army with pulmonary problems and arrived in Morocco for the first time in 1917.

He was completely smitten by his exotic surroundings, and effectively spent the rest of his life in Morocco, based in Marrakech, initially as a painter and later as a gardener.

Majorelle is sometimes classed as an Orientalist, but strictly speaking although his subject matter was the Arabic speaking people and the places of North Africa, he was more of an Occidentalist, because he was painting in the far western extreme of the Islamic world.

Majorelle returned periodically to Nancy and Paris where he enjoyed several successful exhibitions of his prodigious output of paintings showing the markets (Souks) and fortified towns (Casbahs) of the Morooccan interior.

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Anemiter circa 1939

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Casbah, Anemiter

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Southern Market Town

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On the Rooftops of Tagoudat, 1949

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Le Souk des Tapis, Marrakech, 1924

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Puppets, Allemats

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The Souk at El-Khemis

Over the years, Majorelle’s style became flatter and increasingly decorative.
He happily changed from one medium to another. One can find works in oils as well as pastel, gouache and even distemper enhanced with gold dust.

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Travel Poster, Tangiers

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Sunset, Granada

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Tree Ferns These were probably painted in his garden.  Recent research reveals that Tree Ferns was painted in the Ivory Coast near Mont Tonkui.

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The Water Carrier

Between 1945 and 1952 Majorelle made several forays further afield in Africa, his palette increasing in brilliance and hue.

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Women of Guinea 1948

All the while that Majorelle was painting his vivid images of Morocco and further afield, he was at work on what was to become his chef d’oeuvre, which is nowadays much more famous than his paintings.

He bought a ten acre plot of land in the date palm groves on the outskirts of Marrakech, and built himself a house in the “International Style” that was also his studio.

In the grounds of this large villa he planted an impressive array of cacti, succulents, bamboos, bananas, tree ferns, and over 400 varieties of palms. This was serious gardening.

What made the whole composition of house and garden extraordinary however was Majorelle’s choice of colour for the walls of the house, as well as for the pots, planters, pools, walls and just about every possible paintable surface on the property.

He invented, if that’s the right word, a new and very intense shade of blue which he modestly named ‘Majorelle Blue’, and even went to the trouble of trademarking it.

You can see it here:

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Majorelle Blue

His later years were dogged by a car crash in 1955 that resulted in the amputation of one of his feet, and in the following year he was divorced, remarrying in 1961. One year later he was badly injured in another car crash, this time breaking his femur.

He was repatriated to France to recover, but died on the 14th of October 1962

The fabulous garden fell into disrepair after his death, but was discovered by Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Berge, who bought the house and restored the gardens.

The house now contains a museum of Islamic Art, and some paintings by Majorelle.

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Here’s the only book about him that I could find available online:
Les orientalistes – Jacques Majorelle by Félix Marcilhac, ACR Editions 1995, ISBN: 2867700779
288 pages at the rather eye watering price of £80 from Amazon

And lastly, a small personal anecdote about my ignorance of Majorelle…

Winston Churchill met Majorelle in 1946 during one of his many stays at the world famous Mamounia hotel. Churchill was a painter, too. He persuaded the management of the hotel to commission a mural by Majorelle, which he executed on the ceiling of the fabulous dining room.

In 1965 I sat under that very mural, and I even remember staring up at it, but because of my tender years I was filled more with amazement than any curiosity about the artist, so I failed to register it as my first sight of a Majorelle.

I guess you only see things when you are ready…..

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20 Comments

  1. ebt

    Thanks. You supplied info that my own reference books lacked – even his name isn’t included in my art dictionaries.

    Posted 14 January, 2007 at 7:50 pm | Permalink
  2. michael

    I’m glad it was useful, ebt.

    It’s fascinating that artists who are very well known in their own time can just vanish from people’s memory in a few short decades, and disappear from the histories too.

    The web is helping to turn that situation around, and good talents are being “rescued” from obscurity for a new lease of fame, all the time.

    I first chanced upon Majorelle’s name when I looked at a Sotheby’s catalogue. Otherwise, I doubt that I would ever have heard of him, even though I had sat under his famous ceiling mural in the Mamounia Hotel, Marrakech, and admired it!

    Posted 15 January, 2007 at 1:43 am | Permalink
  3. ebt

    I wonder how Klein’s blue differed from Majorelle’s? I see from the web that Klein’s French patent is dated 19May1960 but Majorelle’s must have been much earlier? Both are described as cobalt in various sources but Wikipedia says Klein’s had a heavy reliance on ultramarine.

    Posted 26 January, 2007 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  4. janet thompson

    I too was ignorant of this painter until 18 months ago when on a trip to Marrakesh I was taken to Majorelle’s fabulous garden. THAT BLUE!! Where can I see his paintings? Unfortunately the museum was closed when I visited. Are there any pictures in Europe?

    Posted 19 February, 2007 at 7:59 pm | Permalink
  5. janet thompson

    Where in Europe can M’s paintings be seen please. I have only discovered this artist since visiting his garden.

    Posted 19 February, 2007 at 8:00 pm | Permalink
  6. michael

    Janet, a quick trawl round the usual sources doesn’t turn up any European galleries that currently hold works by Jacques Majorelle, even though there was an exhibition devoted to him in Nancy, France a few years ago. Nancy was his home town, as well as that of his (more famous) father, Louis Majorelle.
    There is even a book about him, still available from a French online bookseller.
    I suspect that a lot of his work is still held by private collectors.

    Posted 20 February, 2007 at 1:33 pm | Permalink
  7. John McEvoy

    I have four Majorelle painting passed down thru the family. Who is qualified to appraise them or making a market?

    Posted 8 March, 2008 at 9:19 pm | Permalink
  8. michael

    @John I’ve e-mailed you a couple of suggestions. My own impulse would be to keep the Majorelle paintings (If they are good quality), and enjoy looking at them, while telling yourself what a lucky man you are, and what good taste your ancestors had! :¬)

    Posted 14 March, 2008 at 1:11 am | Permalink
  9. Carol Greenwood

    Hi,
    I went to Marrakech last week and was bowled over by the reproductions of Majorelles work in the garden museum. I too have had enormous difficulty finding out anything about him (due to his famous father). However i was browsing in an antique shop and spotted two framed images from a book of work by Majorelle. The shopkeeper got the original book out to let me see the prints, mainly lithograhs. Simply gorgeous colours and silvery traces in some areas that made the pictures shimmer with heat. I just loved them..

    Posted 6 April, 2008 at 6:50 pm | Permalink
  10. michael

    I’d love to have seen those, Carol. Images from the web always lack the sheer presence of real world pictures, especially when they are heightened with metallic effects that cannot be conveyed in web reproductions. A bit like hearing mono instead of stereo.

    Posted 9 April, 2008 at 2:09 am | Permalink
  11. liam

    Great insight on such a talented individual as Majorelle. I wonder if he ventured into ‘traditional’ (undoubtedly poor choice of wording) china? my brother-in-law, Donny and his company are just starting to renovate an older style house. in the attic, many boxes filled with prints, china etc all wrapped up in 1940′s newspaper. most was bric-a-brac but I noticed a small dish. on the front was “L. Majorelle”. other markings lead me to think it is genuine. but hey, what do I know.. is it possible? thoughts?
    many thanks, liam

    Posted 19 June, 2008 at 6:53 pm | Permalink
  12. michael

    @liam: I truly don’t know if Majorelle produced ceramics, but seeing the range of his artistic output, I would not rule it out at all. He was an inveterate experimenter.
    If you were interested in pursuing your enquiry, I’d point you in the direction of one of the bigger auction houses in Paris, called Drouot, where they might have a Majorelle expert on hand. Good luck!

    Posted 26 June, 2008 at 12:16 am | Permalink
  13. elnaz

    that was great, i just read about majorelle, it was great , but i just loved majorelle blue along with his other works.

    Posted 4 August, 2008 at 6:14 am | Permalink
  14. sue

    Thank you for this article, I am in Marakesh working on a film set.I visited the gardens yesterday. Don’t understand why the museum shop doesn’t sell any reproductions? I certainly would have bought one. Is the book the only way to see the prints?
    sue

    Posted 10 August, 2008 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  15. michael

    @sue: The only prints I can find of his online are a couple of poster designs, although he did produce a lot of prints in various techniques. I guess you have to look at auctions in France : Druout, and Auction.fr might be good starting places, but you’ll need to register and subscribe (money) to see their catalogues. Weird way of doing business. :(
    By an amazing coincidence I happened to be wearing my Cinesite t-shirt (So many pixels, so little time) today.

    Posted 10 August, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Permalink
  16. Susan

    I’m travelling to Marrakesh next weekend and definitely visiting the Jardin Majorelle. I learnt about it in a book (‘Jardins du Monde’) but knew nothing about the painter in spite of having a degree in Art History. So, I hAve surfed the web, and after a long while, found some pictures in your web. THANKS A MILLION.

    Posted 28 October, 2008 at 7:30 pm | Permalink
  17. michael

    @Susan: Enjoy your time in Marrakesh! Thanks for visiting, I’m glad you found this site interesting. Regards, Michael

    Posted 29 October, 2008 at 2:36 am | Permalink
  18. Al Scaccia

    I have a water color by Jacques Majorelle. It’s was purchased in 1936 in Morocco. The various info I have on the painting is the following:
    Goauche watercolor, and Works on Paper! It was purchased in Morocco in 1936

    Posted 26 January, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink
  19. michael

    @Al Scaccia: It would be interesting to see your watercolour. Is there a picture of it online?

    Posted 26 January, 2010 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  20. Al Scaccia

    A friend has inherited a painting by Jacques Majorelle. His father watched Jacques paint for 3 days and then watched him build the frame for 2 days. Then he bought the painting. That was in the 1950′s. This took place in Morocco. What do u think of this artist?

    Posted 22 August, 2010 at 4:35 am | Permalink

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