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    Charles Rennie Mackintosh Trail in Roussillon: Port-Vendres

     

    Charles Rennie Mackintosh & Margaret Macdonald

    Before resuming our ‘Journey around Scotland‘, with next episode leading us to Glasgow, mainly in the steps of Margaret and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, why not make a detour via the Roussillon, in this very nice and sunny region of France, where the famous Scottish artists spent the last and probably the happiest years of their life. A ‘Mackintosh Trail’ has recently been created there in memoriam of them.

    Mackintosh Trail journey in Roussillon - Scotiana modified Google map © 2012 Scotiana

    Mackintosh Trail journey in Roussillon – Scotiana modified Google map © 2012 Scotiana

    My last post about ‘The Mackintosh Trail in Roussillon‘ dates back to May 2012  following our first ‘pilgrimage’ there.

    You can see on the above map the main landmarks of the Mackintosh Trail. I’ve already written about two of them: Prades and Ille-sur-Têt. Today, I’m going to focus on Port-Vendres.

    Port-Vendres view from Monument aux morts © 2012 Scotiana

    (Port-Vendres view from Monument aux morts © 2012 Scotiana)

    Port-Vendres is a commune in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France.A typical Mediterranean fishing port, situated near the Spanish border on the Côte Vermeille in south west France, Port-Vendres is renowned for its numerous fish and sea food restaurants.

    Port-Vendres is one of the few deep-water ports in this part of the French Mediterranean coast. It takes freighters and cruise ships, as well as large and small fishing boats which may be seen arriving with their daily catch.The geomorphology of Port-Vendres meant that it developed in a different way from the nearby port of Collioure. Whereas Collioure has two beaches which slowly descend into a relatively shallow sandy-bottomed harbour, Port-Vendres is deeper and rockier. Collioure and Port-Vendres have therefore been used for different purposes – Collioure for small commercial ship and Port-Vendres for larger vessels and military transports. During the 20th century, this made it a main point of embarkation for French troops going to serve in Algeria.

    (Source Wikipedia)

     

    But the links between Port-Vendres and Algeria were far from being restricted to war purposes as it is underlined by Robin Crichton in Monsieur Mackintosh.

    The ferry service operating to French North Africa was the shortest crossing and avoided the turbulent passage across the Golfe de Lyons which the other services from Marseilles and Sète had to negotiate. The ships were advertised as the fastest and best appointed in the Mediterranean and carried about 100,000 people every year. Three ships sailed twice a week to Alger and to Oran and the crossing took 22 hours to the latter – a third less than from the other French ports.

    Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton

    Port-Vendres the harbour © 2012 Scotiana

    Things have changed drastically since the 1920s and I’m looking with amazement at black and white old postcards of Port-Vendres when big ships still made regular trips to and from Algeria and fishing boats and merchant ships unloaded their cargoes on the old cobblestone paved quay, just in front of Hotel du Commerce where Margaret and Charles Rennie Mackintosh had set up and  lived from 1923 to 1927. Charles Rennie Mackintosh died in London in December 1928, aged 60 and Margaret in 1933.

    France Roussillon Port-Vendres the harbour © 2012 Scotiana

    The harbour in Port-Vendres © 2012 Scotiana

    If they were to come back there, the Mackintoshes would certainly find strange the picture of Port-Vendres as it is reflected today on the waters of the harbour.

    The atmosphere, the activity, the setting are so different from the time when they used to sit with their friends in front of the Hotel du Commerce.

    Port-Vendres 'Hotel du Commerce' © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres ‘Hotel du Commerce’ © 2012 Scotiana

     

    In a very short time the Mackintoshes were accepted as part of the establishment and treated with that combination of respect and familiarity which French hoteliers reserve for their regular clients.

    There was a steady flow of guests. Weekdays tended to be quiet but weekends were usually busy. This provided an ongoing soap opera as the new arrivals were observed, assessed and occasionally befriended. Quite a number of English-speakers passed through and there were regular commercial travellers like the Cork Man from Spain and the Cinema Man who came to present a film show. (..)

    The Mackintoshes ate well in the large dining room on the first floor, which looked out over the harbour. Dinner consisted of six courses – a soup, a fish course, a vegetable course, a meat dish and finally fruit and cheese. Included in the price was a bottle of red, which they shared between them. (..)

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton – Luath Press 2006)

     

    We didn’t find at once the place where the Mackintoshes had lived in Port-Vendres. It is only when we arrived in front of a building with a commemorative plaque on one of its walls that we realized that it was there. A bank now occupies the ground level of the building where, in Mackintosh’s time,  there was the Café and the Hotel du Commerce with tables and chairs spilling out onto the ‘Quai de la Ville’, now called ‘Quai Pierre Forgas’. The upper level of the building, with its yellow colour and nice wrought iron balconies, is now divided into flats.The Mackintoshes occupied too rooms on the corner of the building, on the first and last floors.

     

    Plaque in memoriam of Charles Rennie Mackintosh Port-Vendres Roussillon France © 2012 Scotiana

    Plaque in memoriam of Charles Rennie Mackintosh Port-Vendres © 2012 Scotiana

     

    The effigy of Charles Rennie Mackintosh must have been based on a portrait of the artist made just before he left for France. He was then in his late fifties.

    Port-Vendres Roussillon general view

    Port-Vendres general view © 2012 Scotiana

    It has been a perfect glorious morning- no wind, the sea the same as I painted for Fort Mauresque – absolutely flat and bright blue – I only got as far as the Tamaris Trees where I sat on my three-legged stool and tried to do three things – to read – to look about me – and to think.

    (From a letter to Margaret – Sunday 15 May 1927)

    In  The Quest for Charles Rennie Mackintosh John Cairney very appropriately entitles his chapter about the artist’s life in Roussillon ‘Painting a Paradise’ while in Charles Rennie Mackintosh Alan Crawfords entitles it ‘Love, Work and Peace’ .

    Such happiness is reflected not only in the artist’s creativity but also in his letters to Margaret and in Margaret’s correspondence to their friends. She writes: Toshie is as happy as a sandboy – tremendously interested in his painting, and, of course, doing some remarkable work. I hope he will have a show sometime – but that remains to be seen about – when he has got enough work together. In the meantime, he is absorbed in this landscape… from 1.30 till 3 in brilliant sunshine… We live, the two of us, for 8 shillings a day, wine included.’

     

    Port Vendres - Vine terraces below the Fort St Elme © 2012 Scotiana

    Port Vendres – Vine terraces below the Fort St Elme © 2012 Scotiana

    The wine was a Collioure red, grown on the narrow hillside terraces above the town. Wine was first cultivated there by the Greeks and the Romans – indeed the name Port-Vendres comes from the Latin Portus Veneris (Port of Venus), for there was once a temple to the goddess there. (…)

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton – Luath Press 2006)

    Vine terraces near Port Vendres © 2012 Scotiana

    Vine terraces near Port Vendres © 2012 Scotiana

    The terraces are too narrow and too steep to allow for mechanisation so even today the process is carried by hand, and with the Trimontane wind to blow away the bugs there is no need to spray, so the wine is organic. A ‘Vin de Mackintosh’ from the Port-Vendres vineyards is marketed by Caves Claire Mayol on the Quai Forgas, which is beside the steps, not far from the Tourist Office.

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton – Luath Press 2006)

    On 12 May 1927, in a letter written to Margaret who was away on a visit to London, Charles Rennie Mackintosh wrote:

     “I dined quite alone and they had the happy idea to give me a full bottle of wine
    and I have the good and happy idea to drink only about half of it.”
    😉


    Monsieur Mackintosh Robin Crichton Luath Press 2007

    Monsieur Mackintosh Robin Crichton Luath Press 2007

     

    No better guide to follow ‘The Mackintosh Trail in Roussillon’ than Monsieur Mackintosh, the excellent bilingual book written by Robin Crichton, a great admirer of the artist. He is the President of the ‘Association CRM en Roussillon‘ and a lover of this beautiful French region which he seems to know pretty well and where he lives.

    Port-Vendres Centre d'interprétation Mackintosh © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres Centre d’interprétation Mackintosh © 2012 Scotiana

    A great work has been accomplished there to make Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s beautiful watercolours known in France and elsewhere. Charles Rennie Mackintosh has always been famous as an architect and a designer and now he is gaining notoriety as a painter, which is fair not only because of the beauty of his watercolours but also because painting was the activity to which he had always dreamed to devote himself.

    At the end of the book, Robin Crichton proposes a ‘possible itinerary to follow’ in Port-Vendres with the 13 painting sites to see in the area and a very detailed map is provided featuring each place to see. We did use the map but not exactly in the advised order.

    Indeed, our visit of Port-Vendres spread over two days. The first day, we spent the morning in Port-Vendres and the afternoon in Collioure. We came back to Port-Vendres the following day after visiting Amélie-les-Bains and Palalda. We wanted to see several painting sites we had missed the day before but as the sky had turned from blue to grey we were very disappointed.

    Below are some of the pictures we took  in Port-Vendres during this two days at the end of April.

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of Mackintosh's painting 'Quai des douanes' © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of Mackintosh’s painting ‘Quai des douanes’ © 2012 Scotiana

    On this reproduction panel one can see a view of ‘Quai des Douanes’ as Mackintosh could see it from the Hotel du Commerce.

    Port-Vendres harbour Quai des douanes © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres harbour Quai des douanes © 2012 Scotiana

    On our photo one can recognize the place painted by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, without the reflections on the water…

    Port-Vendres Steamer Moored at Quayside painting Mackintosh © 2012 Scotiana

    This panel is situated near the place where the Mackintoshes lived. But this painting rises questions, as underlined by Robin Crichton.

     ‘Steamer Moored at Quayside’ was one of the few times Mackintosh ever included any human figures. These and the style – which is much rougher than his carefully drawn landscapes – have caused some debate about whether they are actually his. The steamer was clearly moored beneath and to the left of his window but the paintings are unsigned and have a different feel to his other landscapes, which are essentially still lifes – architectural compositions.

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton)

    I agree with the comments and doubts  about the author of this painting. It is quite different from the other paintings by Mackintosh.  Maybe the artist had tried his hand at another style…

     

    Charles Rennie Mackintosh's watercolour  The Fort Port-Vendres

    Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s watercolour The Fort Port-Vendres

     

    This watercolour, ‘The Fort’, is my favourite one among those who were painted by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Port-Vendres and certainly one of his most beautiful watercolours. He used to come and sit with his easel and brushes near Fort Mailly. He loved the place.

    On 28 May 1927  he wrote to Margaret:

    I got up at 6.30 and was down soon after 7.00. The air was clear and perfect and hardly any wind – I was at work well before 8 o’clock at our castle [Fort Mailly], not at the ‘Rock.’ It seemed to be the thing I was ready to do – I got on very well and worked till 12 o’clock. This drawing is now practically finished and I think it is very good of its kind – I shall give it another short morning as there are one or two things that might still be done – litlle points of closer observation – I find that each of my drawings has something but none of them have everything. This must be remedied – the last drawing has no green and that is one elimination that I am now always striving for – you will understand my difficulty knowing as you do my insane aptitude for seeing green and putting it down here, there and everywhere the very first thing – this habit complicates every colour scheme I am aiming at so I must get over this vicious habit. The ‘Rock’ has some green and now I see that instead of painting this first, I should have painted the great grey rock first then I  probably would have had no real green. But that’s one of my minor curses – green – green, green – if I leave it off my pallet – I find my hands – when my mind is searching for some shape or form – squeezing green out of a tube – and so it begins again.’

    Port-Vendres Fort Mailly and the passage through the rocks © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres Fort Mailly and the passage through the rocks © 2012 Scotiana

    We walked up to Fort Mailly…

    Port-Vendres - 'Passage through the rocks' © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres – ‘Passage through the rocks’ © 2012 Scotiana

    …and along the recognizable ‘passage through the rocks’.

    We were alone and we stayed quite a long time, admiring the landscape and trying to imagine ‘Toshie’ working there…

    Port-Vendres in Roussillon France - The jetty and Fort Mailly  © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres – The jetty and Fort Mailly © 2012 Scotiana

    On this photo you can see the long jetty and, on the hill, the ruined fort. Also the restaurant ‘Le Poisson-Rouge’.

    Fort Mailly was indeed one of Mackintosh’s  favourite subjects in Port-Vendres and we find it reproduced on several of its watercolours:  ‘The Fort’ –  ‘Le Fort Mailly’ – ‘The Road Through The Rocks’ – ‘Port Vendres’.

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of Mackintosh's painting 'The Fort' © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of Mackintosh’s painting ‘The Fort’ © 2012 Scotiana

    Here’s the reproduction panel of ‘The Fort’. Still much green BUT also a lighthouse though if you look at our different photos of the place you can’t see any trace of a lighthouse in the area and there is none. In fact Mackintosh moved it from the place where it actually stands in Port-Vendres to put it closer to Fort Mailly in order to fit his own vision of the place…

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of Mackintosh's The road through the rocks  © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of Mackintosh’s painting ‘The road through the rocks’ © 2012 Scotiana

    The same place again with little green colour and the predominance of the mineral element…

    Port-Vendres The Fort and the restaurant 'Le poisson rouge' © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres The Fort and the restaurant ‘Le poisson rouge’ © 2012 Scotiana

     

    It was from just below the fort, close to the present-day restaurant Le Poisson-Rouge, that Mackintosh painted ‘The Rock’… This was one of his last paintings. The rocks are exaggerated and decorative, almost abstract, and contrast sharply with the depiction of the town in the background.

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton)

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of The Rock by Mackintosh © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres reproduction panel of The Rock by Mackintosh © 2012 Scotiana

     

    Here again, no more green but the predominance of impressive rocks …

    Port-Vendres The Lighthouse © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres The Lighthouse © 2012 Scotiana

    Here’s the ‘moving lighthouse’ dominating the bay on a rocky promontory.

    Charles Rennie Mackintosh did paint it but he didn’t like his painting…

    Port-Vendres - reproduction panel of Mackintosh's painting 'The Lighthouse' © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres – reproduction panel of Mackintosh’s painting ‘The Lighthouse’ © 2012 Scotiana

    He was fairly dismissive of ‘The Lighthouse’. He wrote ‘Isn’t it funny how much unknowing people like The Lighthouse? I assure you it is…fairly bad art.’

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton)

     

    Port-Vendres lighthouse mole © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres lighthouse mole © 2012 Scotiana

    ………………………

    Port-Vendres view of the jetty © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres view of the jetty © 2012 Scotiana

    It is in Port-Vendres that in May 1929,  about six months after the death of his dear ‘Toshie’ and following his last will , Margaret scattered his ashes in the blue waters of the Mediterranean…

    In May 1929 Margaret returned to the Hotel du Commerce. It is said that she fulfilled his wish and walked through the tunnel to Fort Mailly and on along the road through the rocks, to the mole at the entrance to the harbour, from where she scattered his ashes on the waters.

    (Monsieur Mackintosh – Robin Crichton)

    France - The Mackintosh Trail in Roussillon - Port-Vendres - End of the mole © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres – At the end of the mole © 2012 Scotiana

    We walked up to the end of the long jetty, as Margaret did, trying to imagine her feelings then…

    Port-Vendres - Breaking waves at the end of the mole © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres – Breaking waves at the end of the mole © 2012 Scotiana

    The weather had changed. It had become grey…

    Port-Vendres - A solitary gull at the end of the mole © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres – A solitary gull at the end of the mole © 2012 Scotiana

    Just a solitary gull facing the ocean…

    Port-Vendres sunset © 2012 Scotiana

    Port-Vendres sunset © 2012 Scotiana

    We stayed in Port-Vendres until sunset and then went back to Castell Rose, the lovely pink marble little castle where we had been so lucky to find accommodation near Prades.

    I hope you have enjoyed my little tour in Port-Vendres, following ‘The Mackintosh Trail in Roussillon’,  in the steps of two great Scottish artists. The next episode will take place in Collioure.

    I’ve found a nice video displaying Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s watercolours. Is there a better way to conclude than to immerse in his beautiful works of art.  So enjoy!

    A bientôt.

    Mairiuna

     

     



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