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BOTANICAL ENCOUNTERS: Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech

Words and pictures by Ida K. Rigby unless otherwise noted, for Let’s Talk Plants! December 2023.

“Irounen, Grand Atlas, Vallée d’Ounila” 1921 painting by Jacques Majorelle. As found on https://painterskeys.com/jacques-marjorelle/

Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech


Because our last Botanical Encounters article was set the High Atlas and last month Cathy Tilka’s “Sharing Secrets” column featured gardens members had visited, I thought we would stay in Morocco and wander through the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech (jardinmajorelle.com and Majorelle Gardens at www.archnet.org).


So, according to the Jardin Majorelle website:


“The Jardin Majorelle, which extends over 9,000 square meters, is one of the most enchanting and mysterious gardens in Morocco. Created over the course of forty years, it is enclosed by outer walls, and consists of a labyrinth of crisscrossing alleyways on different levels and boldly-coloured buildings that blend both Art Deco and Moorish influences. The French painter Jacques Majorelle conceived of this large and luxuriant garden as a sanctuary and botanical ‘laboratory.’ In 1922, he began planting it with exotic botanical specimens from the far corners of the world.


In l980, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, who first arrived in Morocco in l966, purchased the Jardin Majorelle to save it from destruction at the hands of hotel developers. The new owners decided to live in Jacques Majorelle’s villa, which they renamed the Villa Oasis.


‘For many years, the Jardin Majorelle has provided me with an endless source of inspiration, and I have often dreamt of its unique colors.’ - Yves Saint Laurent”

The garden is the vision of the French expatriate painter Jacques Majorelle and its subsequent owners, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. Majorelle (1886-1962) worked in the French orientalist tradition begun by Eugene Delacroix, popularized by Jean-Leon Gerome, and continued in the early twentieth century in the brushy, colorful Fauve style of Henri Matisse. Majorelle painted his subjects with the thick, free brushwork and brilliant colors of Les Fauves (The Wild Beasts).


Majorelle lived in Marrakech from 1919 to 1962. He purchased a palm grove …

… and subsequently built a villa for himself and his first wife. In 1931 he commissioned the architect Paul Sinoir to design a studio. The original studio was in a cube-art deco style. Majorelle soon added Islamic architectural elements.

He dubbed the cobalt blue color of the studio exterior “le bleu majorelle” (which he patented.)


Although inspired by Islamic gardens, the Jardin Majorelle is not laid out in formal divisions; instead, it is an exuberant celebration of vines, shrubs and trees punctuated by brilliantly colored ceramic pottery filled with grasses and blossoming plants.

The garden’s two pools form an axis.

Each has “Majorelle blue” walls. One runs some 45 meters from the studio to terminate at a stucco pavilion set in a bamboo forest. The pavilion is decorated with Islamic motifs and calligraphy and has a ceramic tile roof characteristic of buildings in Marrakech. The supporting columns are “Majorelle blue,” and the corner supports are bamboo green. Both ponds feature small pavilions.


The gardens embody nineteenth and twentieth century European artists’ image of the North Africa they discovered on visits to Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. There they discovered bright light, color and exoticism, which inspired their paintings. Paul Klee exclaimed “color and I are one, I am a painter” during his visit to Tunisia. In Morocco Delacroix reveled in the brilliance of the North African light and savored fantasies of the harem, as did Matisse in Algeria and Morocco. Majorelle’s image of the exotic is embodied by his paintings of Marrakech and the High Atlas (an area visited in our last column BOTANICAL ENCOUNTERS: Farming In The High Atlas Mountains Of Morocco (sdhortnews.org)) and in the plantings in the garden. He sought out what he considered rare and exotic plants from across the globe.

The garden has been open to the public since l947 when Majorelle needed income to support his garden. He sold the house, studio and gardens in the l950s. Without his stewardship the property fell into disrepair, although it remained open to the public. After their arrival in Marrakech in 1966 Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé frequented the garden. In 1980 they purchased and restored the garden, villa and studio.

In the studio building they opened a small museum for their personal collection of Berber art and a gallery to exhibit their own collection of Majorelle’s work. After Yves Saint Laurent died in 2008, his ashes were spread in the garden. Pierre Bergé donated the property to the Pierre Bergé - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, which owns and administers the garden, museum and gallery. Bergé died in 2017.

 

Ida Rigby is a past SDHS Board member and Garden Tour Coordinator. She has gardened in Poway since l992 and emphasizes plants from the northern and southern Mediterranean latitudes.

Her garden received the San Diego Home/Garden Magazine Best Homeowner Design and Grand Prize in their Garden of the Year contest in l998. Her travels focus on natural history.

 
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