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No. 323-325: The City of Painters, Matisse Encore and André Derain

Making our way across southern France on what we are calling our farewell tour, we passed through the Languedoc coastal region, an area heavily influenced by the Moors, Charlemagne, and of course Spain. We landed in the small resort town of Collioure, 15 minutes from the Spanish border, in what is arguably one of the worst hotels we have ever stayed in, but literally a stone’s throw away from la plage and the action of this enticing seaside village. It takes a good day for the place to grow on you. It is hard to get over the peak season crowds, the complete lack of parking, and the blaring nightlife. But in the end, the pastel houses like so many cool shavings of Italian ice and the perfectly pebble beaches have won us over.

What I find breathtaking about Collioure is the cacophony of color. From the beach umbrellas and bikinis to the rooftops and shutters to the sailboats’ sails and covers, this one time fishing hamlet is a visual banquet. A once-mighty fortress, a winking lighthouse, and a churning windmill enhance the town’s delicious scene, all nestled in the shade of the magnificent Pyrenees. Collioure_france7.jpg The saturation, sharpness, and shifting of colors is terrifically appealing. While Venice has her mystical light and the blending and bending of water and color that sometimes blurs the edges, Collioure has her petulant perimeters and distinctive frames. At any given time of the day, the Mediterranean turns from a calming turquoise to a deep azure to a stark cobalt blue. The rooftops roll from cool clay, to burnt orange, to fiery brown. Broad palm trees bind the boardwalk, their trunks and fronds so deliberate and precise, proof to me at least, that the gods were involved in shaping this marvelous canvas.


I suspect that Henri Matisse, André Derain, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso shared this belief too. Scattered throughout the museums of Europe are marvelous paintings inspired by their own visits to this enchanting seaside town and the colorful Catalan harbor. The tourist office makes it easy to follow in the footsteps of Matisse and Derain with “Le chemin du Fauvisme”, a route lined with copies of their works placed at the spots where they were originally painted, allowing viewers to compare the paintings to the existing view.

Following the narrow cobbled streets through the charming chalk-colored houses dripping with Bougainvillea, the view of the sea is always a constant, and it is easy to understand why Collioure is considered the birthplace of the Fauvist Movement. According to Derain, the rare quality of the light was their muse; and as Matisse claimed, “No sky in all France is more blue than that of Collioure.” Today, Collioure is still a thriving art town with around thirty different artists living and painting here. It is a gem of a ville. If I had the talent to paint, I would make it my home too.


23 Comments Post a comment
  1. We both have the same opinion of Collioure then! Actually once you get away from the ‘sea front’ parts of it are much better.

    July 31, 2014
    • Yes. I think we are in total agreement. If I only spent an afternoon or evening there, I think the crowds would have driven me away (with a very unfavorable taste in my mouth). But once you get away from the crowds and wander the cobblestone streets and hike up into the hills, I think it is one of the most beautiful towns I have seen in France so far.

      August 1, 2014
  2. Magnifique! I have a print of the Andre Derain painting “Boats at Collioure” at home (I got it at an exhibition of French Fauves painters in Melbourne years ago). I would love to visit Collioure some day on my future travels!

    July 31, 2014
    • Hi there! Put it on your bucket list and stay up in the hills or in the nice pastel neighborhood. It is such a treat to walk along the Fauvist path and see exactly where they painted from. Fascinating and beautiful.

      August 1, 2014
      • Thanks for your reply – yes I will definitely put Collioure on my bucket list it will be lovely to see where the Fauves painted! I think the light will be a bit like that of my adoptive home in Perth Western Australia so I would love to check it out!

        August 4, 2014
  3. OOh yes, the Languedoc light!

    It intensifies in the little villages like Collioure ( & Campagne-sur-Aude!) due to the close juxtaposition of colours and shapes
    This effect actually continues inland too, the colours are just something special,

    Languedoc sky blue is my favourite shade ever!!!

    July 31, 2014
    • Je suis d’accord. You are so lucky to have a home there…even without a great Internet connection. 🙂

      August 7, 2014
      • Yes I am, and I need to be reminded of that sometimes when it all gets too much. Thanks Nancy

        August 8, 2014
      • Is there a nice café with Internet near (enough) where you could go and work for large chunks of time a few times a week? Do what you can at home without internet and then be super productive at the café? In the end it might be wonderful not to be available 24/7 and not to get sucked into the virtual world? I have loved only having a couple of hours a day (and sometimes when it rains, no access) where I can be online. I’ve become more productive and more in the moment the rest of the day! x

        August 8, 2014
      • Great idea but I consult in a highly confidential area of advice and law ( I know that is unbelievable when you read my flaky blog!) and it would be risky to have my piles of files on a cafe table…sadly

        August 8, 2014
      • Well rats! We will have to keep brainstorming.

        August 8, 2014
  4. Delightful post !

    July 31, 2014
  5. Beautiful piece. Clearly, Collioure has also inspired some excellent writing!

    July 31, 2014
    • That a very kind comment coming from you (one of my very favorite French bloggers!) I like being on vacation and having unhurried mornings to write. It’s good for my soul. 🙂

      August 1, 2014
  6. Catherine Sweeney #

    I love Derain! What a beautiful area. We’re planning a trip to Europe next year and this looks so lovely!! Can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the blog.

    August 2, 2014
  7. suespix #

    this post has everything i like in it! um, well really i should say “i like everything in it”? :/

    August 3, 2014
  8. What happened at the hotel??? Do you have pictures of its yuckiness amid all this beauty? The pictures might be the BEST I’ve seen!! Bravo for braving it 🙂

    August 3, 2014
    • It was just dirty and gross and sleazy. I expected to find a quarter slot to make the bed vibrate. It was crazy noisy with drunk French tourists, but the town itself is so crazy beautiful I am glad we stayed.

      August 4, 2014

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