Culture

Jacques Majorelle's auction in Paris and Marrakech

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From Orientalism to colonialism and independence, the double auction draws on 120 years of African art, with more than 70 works up for bidding.

The French artist Jacques Majorelle was born in 1886 in Nancy and died in 1962 in Paris, but the most productive period of his life were the three decades he spent in voluntary exile in Marrakech.

Although his artworks, depicting scenes from Moroccan everyday life, markets, folk festivals and rituals, were forgotten after his death, they have become very popular over the last decade. The renewed interest culminated at a small, special exhibition at the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech (mYSLm) this October.

It was the famous fashion designer who bought Majorelle's deserted estate "Jardin Majorelle" in the former Moroccan capital in 1980, restored it and turned it into a visitor attraction.

After his death, Yves Saint Laurent had his ashes scattered in the gardens.

Colors and shapes of North Africa

Eleven of Majorelle's paintings are part of the double auction "Majorelle and his contemporaries" and "African Spirit" taking place simultaneously on December 30 in Paris and Marrakech.

Organized by the French auction house Artcurial, the sale includes two of his most famous paintings: "Le marché aux dattes" (The Date Market), created between 1940 and 1945, and "Les Allamattes," which renders a scene from a folk festival where women from Marrakech carry life-size dolls through the streets to pay homage to the Pasha of Marrakech.

Both canvases are estimated to sell for 200,000 to 300,000 euros. ($239,000-358,000)

In contrast to Majorelle's works, the canvases by European artists and Orientalists of the late 19th century are full of colonial influence and romanticizing realism.

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Yves Saint Laurent Museum Opens in Marrakech

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The Yves Saint Laurent museum opened its doors to the public Thursday in Marrakech, the sunny, bustling, gritty Moroccan city beloved by the late French designer.

The highly anticipated opening comes less than three weeks since the inauguration of a museum dedicated to the fashion pioneer in his home city of Paris.

The Marrakech museum, designed by the French architectural firm Studio KO, sprawls across 4,000 square meters (43,000 sq. feet) near the Majorelle Garden, which Yves Saint Laurent and his late partner Pierre Berge bought in 1980.

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It features a permanent exhibit on the work of the prolific French couturier who died in 2008, and includes an exhibit hall, an auditorium, a library, a bookshop and a restaurant.

The museum was inaugurated Oct. 14 by the wife of Moroccan King Mohammed VI, Lalla Salma, alongside actresses Catherine Deneuve and Marisa Berenson.

“This project finds its genesis in the temporary exhibition organized in the Majorelle Garden, which was called ‘Yves Saint Laurent and Morocco,'” explained Museum Director Bjorn Dahlstrom. “(That) exhibition was so enthusiastically welcomed that Bergé decided to create here, in Marrakech, a museum dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent.”

At the entrance to the museum, visitors bought tickets Thursday next to a red facade of Tetuan brick and granite, which Dahlstrom said “fits perfectly in the urban environment of Marrakech.”

Berge, who died earlier this year and was also Saint Laurent’s business partner, “often came to the construction site to see its progress,” said Sanaa El Younsi, a member of the museum team. “What a pity he’s not here to attend the opening.”

The Majorelle Garden, next to the museum, has a special significance for Saint Laurent, who would often design his collections in the shade of the city’s dappled terracotta buildings with the scent of flowers in the air. Today, the Majorelle Garden is one of the most visited tourist sites in the city.

Saint Laurent would come here “as soon as he finished a collection, to rest and prepare a new collection,” said Majorelle Garden Foundation head Quito Fierro.

“The garden was closed to the public between 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to allow Yves Saint Laurent to walk without meeting people,” he remembered. “Almost all the collections were drawn on a white sheet in Marrakech.”

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