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Posts tagged ‘Marc Chagall’

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.


No. 57-58: l’Opéra (gâteau) & l’Opéra (Palais Garnier)

I am crazy for the opéra, both the one with the colorful Chagall ceiling and the one with six layers of divine chocolate and coffee cream.

I started buying l’opéra when we first came to Paris because it was the easiest thing to pronounce (and read) at the pâtisserie. Thank goodness for bad handwriting and a language with strings of silent letters, without which I may have never ordered this yummy chocolate prize.


There are several different theories about who invented l’opéra cake and where it was first served. But whether it made its debut in 1890 at the Paris Opéra itself (filled with coffee to keep the audience awake) or in the early 1900s under another name (the Clichy cake), or did not arrive on the pastry stage until the pastry chef at Dalloyau introduced it in the 1950s (honoring a ballerina or the Garnier itself), I’m just glad that some brilliant chef pâtissier came up with this  tasty cake recipe.

The gâteau opéra is a great piece of theatre—a work in six acts, you might say. The play begins with three thin layers of sponge cake soaked in a heady coffee syrup and in between those scenes, a layer of espresso-flavored buttercream, followed by a layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache and concluding with a topping of chocolate glaze. Et enfin, l’opéra is always crowned with some subtle jewel, usually a bit of gold leaf, often toasted almonds, and sometimes the word opéra is delicately penned across the glaze.

My other great love is the real opéra, le Palais Garnier (Garnier Opera House) in Paris. Built on the orders of Napoleon III and carried out by Baron Haussmann as part of the “great Parisian reconstruction”, the opera house is one of the greatest legacies of Napoleon’s reign. Unfortunately for Napoleon, his empire fell before he ever got to ride up in his carriage or had the chance to use his personally designed box seats.

Completed in 1875, the Garnier was the place to see and to be seen. The sweeping staircases were designed so that two finely dressed nineteenth century women could make their grandiose entrances in their grandiose gowns at the same time. Aside from the velvety red theatre, there is a grand foyer that resembles the hall of mirrors at Versailles and is often used by Hollywood when they can’t secure the real deal. If you are a fan of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera this is the place for you; the opera house, rumors of haunting, and a vault lake, inspired his story. Marc Chagall’s vibrant ceiling playfully dancing around an 8-ton chandelier is one of my favorite bits of “decoration” is this wildly over-the-top French treasure.

Looking through my pictures this morning of my two beloved opéras, I came up with another theory of why the opera cake was created. I think the two actually resemble one another. Layer after luxurious layer. What do you think?


…if you are going to have l'Opéra, you've also got to have la symphonie…my latest yummy find...

…if you are going to have l’Opéra, you’ve also got to have la symphonie…my latest yummy find…


chef pâtissier: pastry chef

et enfin…and finally

gâteau opéra: opera cake


No. 10: Chagall

La Danse 1950-1952

La Danse 1950-1952

I am a huge fan of Marc Chagall.

I was lucky enough to see the Chagall exhibit at the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris at the end of summer, and it was stunning. I adore his vibrant palette and enthusiasm. Boy, could Chagall do color! As Picasso said, “When Matisse dies Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is”. Je suis d’accord, brother.

Although Chagall was born in Belarus, the French considers him first a French artist, and then a Russian painter. While he did spend the majority of his life in France, much of his work reflects and was inspired by his memories and dreams of his homeland in Vitebsk. But, fortunately for all us admirers, many of his most famous works can still be found in France.

Le Paysage Bleu, 1949

Le Paysage Bleu, 1949

The expos. A remarkable thing about living in Paris and France is the exceptional access to great works of art. At this exhibit, I fell in love with his fiddlers dancing on the roofs and his ghostly figures gliding through his magical sky, the green and yellow dancers and whimsical forms, the purple roosters and blue violins, the stuff that dreams are made of…his hopes, longings, and losses—a delightful and thought-provoking display of some of his major works.

A night at the symphony. The Palais Garnier, Paris’ famous opera house, is also the home to his famous, fanciful ceiling. Although there was a whole heap of debate and some very disgruntled Frenchies when he was first commissioned to paint it in 1963, it has become a much beloved part of any evening at the opera or ballet.

Palais Garnier, Paris

Palais Garnier, Paris

The windows. You may not know that a set of Chagall stain glassed windows is housed in Reims at the gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral. I was oh so pleasantly surprised to find them when touring Champagne country. Someday soon I hope to make it to Metz to visit Saint-Etienne Cathedral to see, as one French friend has told me the most “flamboyant” of all of Chagall’s windows.

Reims Cathedral

Reims Cathedral

The sets and costumes. On top of that, I just learned from my lovely daughter and dancer, Kitcat, that Chagall also designed and hand-painted the madly imaginative costumes and sets for the1942 production of Aleko, for the New York Ballet Theatre and did the same for New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s production of the Magic Flute, later in the 1960s. (Do I have to go to New York to see them? Does anyone know where they are housed?)



Clown costume, Aleko

Clown costume, Aleko

Most definitely on my radar this fall, is a trip to the Carrières de Lumières, via Marseilles, to see the “Monet, Renoir… Chagall: Journeys around the Mediterranean” expo…and, of course Nice is my Mecca. Someday I hope I’ll visit the Musée National Marc Chagall.


Je suis d’accord: I agree