by James Duncan


Majorelle Bleu is my wife Miriam’s favorite color. She has her reasons, as we shall see.  Apparently, Miriam is not alone; an international survey reveals that blue is the most popular color in the world.  Perhaps this seemingly subjective choice we collectively make is connected to the prevalence of blue within the cosmos.  After all, the world is called the “blue planet,” for reasons that are all too obvious to anyone who has seen the amazing photograph of the earth from space.  Blue is the color of the sky and of the oceans. So why then does the word blue signify sadness? Apparently because of the blueness of the water in our tears.


Although blue may be the most prevalent color in the cosmos, throughout much of human history, the most brilliant blues were unobtainable for the majority of people. In the ancient world, lapis lazuli was the source of the most vibrant blue. It was more precious than gold.  From medieval times through the renaissance the rarest paint color was ultramarine, produced by grinding lapis to a powder. So valuable it was, that only the robes of the Virgin and the infant Jesus were painted blue.  However, with the move from tempera to oil painting during the Renaissance, the use of brilliant ultramarine blue declined because powdered lapis lost its brilliance when mixed with oil.  It wasn’t until 1834 with advances in chemistry that brilliant blue ultramarine and cobalt oil paints were invented in France. And so, brilliant blue went from being a color only the very rich could afford to one available to all.    


Which brings us back to Miriam’s favourite color,  Majorelle Blue.  The story of Majorelle Bleu is the story of cultural borrowings and the invention of a tradition.  When the French colonised Morocco, they took their new vivid blue paints and dyes with them. In fact, so cheap had ultramarine and cobalt blue dyes and paints become, that the local Berber tribes used them extensively to color their clothing and paint the trim on their buildings.  The use of these colors had become so widespread, that in the 1920s when the French artist Jacques Majorelle arrived in Morocco, he saw all the window sills and doors painted in ultramarine and cobalt and assumed these to be the traditional Berber color.  Little did he know that both colors were invented in France less than  a century earlier. 


And so, Majorelle, who had admired vivid blues in the painting of Matisse, was charmed by his impression that these were authentic Berber colors. He painted his villa and fabulous walled garden in Marrakech Berber Blue. Majorelle’s innovation in this tale of cultural borrowings and re-borrowings, was to paint entire buildings and walls ultramarine blue.  The result was so striking, that the color was renamed Majorelle Bleu. Although the gardens fell into disrepair after Majorelle died, they were restored to their former glory by Yves St. Laurent and Pierre Berge in the 1980s.  Today they are one of the principal tourist attractions of Marrakech.  But beautiful as the gardens are, what strikes people most about the place is not the spaces, or the plants, or the buildings, but the Majorelle Bleu color itself.  My wife Miriam grew up in Morocco and for her this blue is the color of North Africa and of childhood. 


And so, to celebrate the Berbers, Jacques Majorelle, and Miriam’s North African childhood, I have created the Majorelle chair in cobalt; very French, very Berber, and very Blue.


Mohair Blue.jpg