Self-guided walk: The Fauves

There is an excellent route around the two districts of the old town where Matisse and Derain took their inspiration and painted some of their most iconic images. These are marked by information panels and there is a full-colour (French-only) guide from the Espace Fauve and it is from here that the walk commences. Leaving the office, which is on the Quai de l’Amirauté close to the footbridge over the Douy, turn left to the corner of Boulevard du Boramar. On the wall behind the esplanade there is a panel [1] which shows Vue de Collioure, l’église, été 1905 by Henri Matisse. The principal element of the picture, the church with its distinctive tower, remains much the same, but development of the promenade with extensive cafe seating now obscures the beach. The artist has also brought the headland on the right into the frame of the picture. The boats drawn up on the beach are an important element in this and many other paintings and they are mainly absent in the present scene. Whatever boats there are are mainly pleasure craft and these are to be found tied up to jetties of recent construction. There are still one or two traditional fishing boats but these are there mainly to provide photo-opportunities.

     Retrace your steps back to the Place de l’Église and then turn right into Rue de la Paix and Rue du Mirador. Walk up this charming stepped street with many studios or ateliers of contemporary artists to either side until the top of the road and an open space is reached. Here there is a panel [9] which depicts Les toits de Collioure, 1905 ou 1906 by Henri Matisse. However the artist must have positioned himself further up the hill behind this point to achieve the view. This higher ground is now occupied by the car park of a military establishment in the Fort Mirador and it is definately out-of-bounds. The passage of time has changed the roofscape considerably but the overall effect remains the same.

     Across the other side of the open space adjacent to the end of a private road (Rue de la Carranque) there is a further panel [10] which shows a painting by Derain entitled Collioure, le village et la mer, été 1905. The juxtaposition of landscape and buildings evident in the painting is impossible to see from this point and it may be that the artist again positioned himself at a higher level in what is now the restricted area of Fort Mirador.



     A little further along on the wall of the tourist office is the second panel for Le Faubourge de Collioure, été 1905 by André Derain. This panel [2] would seem not to be in quite the right place and the view is more recogniseable further along the beach infront of the outside tables of Le Petite Café. The castle wall on the right and the distant collection of houses with the church of the Dominican Convent on the left can still be identified, but the new harbour wall obscures the foreground beach with its line of fishing boats drawn up on the shore and of course it is this element of the painting that is missing.

     Close by there is a panel [3] on the wall at the back of the esplanade and the subject of this is a pen and ink sketch by Matisse called Barques à Collioure, été 1905. The distinctive sails of the traditional fishing boats are now a rare sight indeed but pleasure yachts are a good substitute for the vessels in the distance.
     A few steps further on there is a panel [4] featuring Derain’s painting called Le Phare de Collioure, été 1905. This would appear to be painted from an elevated position behind the beach, possibly from a balcony of one of the houses. The title refers to the church tower which was once used as a lighthouse and this and other architectural elements are still readily recogniseable. Again the fishing boats are absent from the scene and as with the painting by Matisse [1], the artist has brought the headland on the far right into the frame of the picture.

     The next panel [5] shows a canvas by Matisse entitled Porte fenêtre à Collioure, septembre–octobre 1914. The subject matter (an open window at evening time) means that an exact location for where the artist stood is unimportant but it has been assumed that it was somewhere along Al Boramar, where the artist did have a studio for some of the time he was in Collioure. The subject of an open window was a recurring motif for Matisse and features in several more paintings on this self-guided walk around Collioure.
     The next painting by Matisse [6] is called Collioure, été 1905 and this enigmatic image of a sailing boat on the water could be located anywhere but the panel is positioned behind the far end of Boramar beach near to the church. The horizontal pink band above the dark blue water could represent the buildings of the Faubourg district behind the beach of Port d’Avall and then the landscape beyond is depicted in subtle tones of pink and blue with the sky above.
     At the end of Boulevard du Boramar walk through the Place de l’Église at the back of the church and look out over the Plage Nord. There is a panel [7] on the wall of the castellated building opposite the church. This shows La moulade, été 1905 by Matisse and the view is along the coast towards Angelès which is now evident because of the high rise buildings of the seaside resort in the distance. The cliffs on the left are recogniseable and there is even yellow gorse on the cliff tops as in the original image. The rocks tumble into the sea in the same way and on a stormy day it would be no leap of the imagination to see what the artist saw. It is now no longer possible to walk along the coastal path since there were fatalities in stormy weather.
     From here it is possible to reach the small chapel of Saint Vincent by either walking along Plage Nord or Plage St-Vincent or indeed on the roof of the buildings which separate the two beaches. The next panel [8] is located on the front wall of the little chapel which is perched on a headland looking back towards the town. The painting depicted is La porte, plage Saint-Vincent, été 1905 by Matisse. This is a subtle watercolour where the principal architectural element is the church of Saint Vincent with its distinctive tower. However, other elements are somewhat sketchy. The artist would appear to have omitted the castle ramparts beyond the church and the castellated building to the right.

     Continue along the side of the Ravin du Douy, which takes the form of a concrete car park in the dry months of the year, until the Place du Maréchal Leclerc is reached. This square and the adjacent streets is where there is a lively market on Sundays and Wednesdays. Take the Avenue Aristide Maillol out of the far end of the square and proceed towards the railway station. Either side of the gates between numbers 21 and 23 there are two display panels [12 & 13]. The first of these shows Intérieur aux aubergines, septembre 1911 by Matisse. This shows an interior with an open window on the extreme right with a view of the Albère hills and was possibly painted from the rear of one of these properties where the artist may well have stayed. The second painting is Fenêtre à Collioure, été 1905, again by Matisse. The view through the open window shows tiled roofs and the railway line with the Albère hills beyond.

     The next three panels are located in the west of the old town, two of them being close to the railway station. Either retrace your steps down the Rue du Mirador to the Boulevard du Boramar and back to where you started and then walk along Avenue Camille Pelletan to the bar and restaurant of Les Templiers or allow your feet to wander downhill through the maze of stepped, narrow streets until you come to the same place. On the wall next to this establishment is a panel [11] depicting Collioure, le bonheur des peintres, 1950 by Henri Matisse. This schematic line drawing completed towards the end of his life seems to give directions to other aspiring artists as to how to reach Collioure on the train and shows where the artist’s studio was in 1904. The names of two guest houses are given and the iconic sails of the fishing boats are depicted. These would seem to be the elements that, as far as Matisse was concerned, constituted ‘The Happiness of Painters’. This image was drawn in the Livre d’Or or visitor’s book of Les Templiers and this establishment is well worth a visit to experience a hint of the bohemian atmosphere that must have prevailed before the town was taken over by tourists. The walls of the bar are lined with paintings produced by generations of artists working in the area and used to pay outstanding bills. Just to perforate the image slightly, it has to be noted that many of the more valuable paintings are now copies of the originals.

Les toits de Collioure, 1905 ou 1906, Matisse

     The next selection of images on the Fauve trail are in the Faubourg district of the town and to reach here it is necessary to retrace your steps back to the Place du Maréchal Leclerc. From here cross the road bridge over the Ravin du Douy and walk up Rue de la République to the Carrefour du Christ. Here turn left into Avenue du Général de Gaulle and walk downhill until the Plage de Port d’Avall is reached. The road behind the beach is called Rue de la Démocratie and on the wall of number 22 there is a panel [14] showing La Fenêtre ouverte, été 1905 by Matisse. This was painted from an upper floor window looking down on fishing boats drawn up on the beach which seem to enter the room and become part of the same space as the objects in the foreground.

For the next panel [15] it is necessary to continue along the road and then turn down the Rue Jean Bart towards the diving school which is situated at the far end of the beach. This shows Voiliers à Collioure, été 1905 by André Derain. The principal motif of this picture is again traditional fishing boats with their distinctive sails and so it is difficult to say with any certainty where the artist positioned himself.
     You now need to retrace your steps to the promenade behind the beach as far as the Boulodrome where you will usually find an animated gathering of elderly men engaged in this traditional past-time. On the seaward side of the court you will find a panel [16] showing Bateaux à Collioure, été 1905 by Derain. Looking down on the beach it is possible to recreate the scene the artist saw but the fishermen and their boats have now been replaced by visitors enjoying the pleasures of sun and sea.

     A few steps away is a panel [17] showing Matisse’s La plage rouge, été 1905. The physical context of the image is still recogniseable and it is certainly possible to stand where the artist stood to create this colourful picture. However the headland on the right has now been developed with bars and cafés and the waterfront below has been built up and that is now where pleasure craft are tied up. There may be the occasional small boat pulled up onto the shore but the distictive pattern of masts which form such a striking part of this image can only be imagined.

     You now continue to the end of the beach and join the path which runs along the sea’s edge below the Château Royal. Set into the wall along this path there is a panel [18] showing Derain’s Le séchage des voiles, été 1905. The view here is back towards the beach of Port d’Avall with the Faubourg district and Albère hills beyond. There is a line of fishing boats drawn up on the strand with their sails drying in the sun. In the centre foreground of the picture there is a metal bollard and it or a similar feature is still set into the curving path today and so it is possible to position yourself almost exactly as Derain would have done. Unfortunately you won’t see the arrangement of boats and sails that he saw but the context in which he created this image is still recogniseable.
     For the final image on this trail continue along the path towards the old town of Collioure and just before crossing the footbridge over the Douy there is a panel [19] set in the castle wall showing Les Pêcheurs à Collioure, été 1905 by André Derain. The image shows fishermen attending to their nets and their boats drawn up on the beach of Boramar. The new harbour walls and promenade behind the beach now obscure the view and of course the activity depicted no longer takes place. The creek of Douy is evident on the extreme left.
     There used to be a twentieth panel which has now been removed. This showed a further work by Derain which is still described in the booklet but it has been discovered that the subject of the painting was in fact at L’Éstaque near Marseille.

Vue de Collioure, l’église, été 1905, Matisse

La Fenêtre ouverte, été 1905, Matisse

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Le Faubourg de Collioure, été 1905, Derain

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Collioure, le bonheur des peintres, 1950, Matisse

Intérieur aux aubergines, septembre 1911, Matisse

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La séchage des voiles, été 1905, Derain

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