I’m happy to share with WordPress my painting of Vidauban which I finished today, having been unable to work on it yesterday due to poor light caused by a day of heavy rain. I really enjoyed creating this and when the paint is dry I will add it to my online gallery.
For the past couple of days I have been working on the view of Vidauban from our terrace. It is a wonderful view, with the church cradled in the middle of the village which is surrounded by hills. In the background are distant mountains, their colours ranging from green blue to blue to violet depending on the light. I am looking forward to painting this scene many times at different times of day and in different seasons.
This particular painting is of Vidauban mid-morning. The sun has warmed up the buildings and is catching the tree tops on the hillsides. The predominant colours are cream, terracotta, blue and greens. Unusually for me I painted the canvas with an undercoat of terracotta to cover up an earlier composition. (I had run out of canvases – this was the only one available.) However, I think the undercoat works well in contrasting with the greens. I struggled a bit to begin with in the placing of the colours and I felt rather down but I think they are beginning to come together now. If a painting doesn’t seem to be working I do get very depressed about it and doubt my ability even more than usual. However, I am reminded of Van Gogh’s words:
“If you hear a voice within you say ‘I cannot paint’, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”
I love August. It is the month we always used to come on holiday here, and so it is associated with many happy memories. We used to look forward so much to escaping from almost constant rain and waking up to blue skies, and now even although we are living here I have not got used to that. Outside my bedroom window is a bank of lavender and in the morning I wake up to sunshine filtering through the shutters and the sound of bees already humming amongst the flowers outside. Camille, our little brown and cream cat, loves to stroll amongst the bushes as soon as I open the door for her. By 9am the temperature is well over 30 degrees and the butter left out for breakfast is in danger of melting. Between midday and about 4pm it really is too hot to do anything that requires much effort. Not that that stops us from trying of course and we often seem to find ourselves out walking amongst the olive and pine trees, or making our way down to the market. Or, less pleasantly, running to catch one of the few buses that make the 50 minute journey to the local centre of administration for the Var department, Draguignan.
When we were on holiday here we used to stay on campsites, and one in particular became our favourite, right on the beach. Long days were spent enjoying swimming in the warm sea water or sketching views of the countryside or just sunbathing. We would go on costal walks, along rocky paths bordered by scrubby trees and bushes on one side and sparkling blue water on the other. We would visit, and revisit, the beautiful hilltop villages of Ramatuelle, Grimaud, and Gassin. And we loved to go into St Tropez by a back road, and stroll through the old streets surrounding the orange and yellow bell tower and along the harbour front past all the millionaires’ yachts along to the artists stalls.
Without transport we have not been able to visit the beach this summer, but at least the appartments where we are living share a swimming pool which feels like a real bonus, if not almost an essential here. The pool is very popular with children, and watching them I think how fortunate they are to grow up in such beautiful surroundings and in such a favoured climate.
One of my favourite place to visit in the Var department of Provence is the beautiful little hilltop village of Bormes les Mimosas. The steep old streets, many with steps, are lined with pastel coloured houses in shades of pink, cream and terracotta, overflowing with tubs and baskets of flowers. The main street , pedestrianised, is full of enticing little shops selling jewellery, clothes, bags, antique style items for the home, precious stones and an assortment of local crafts. The main road which skirts the village, never overly busy unlike on the coast only a few kilometres distant, is bordered by magnificent tall palm trees and pavement cafes, from which there is a wonderful view of the Mediterranean.
I think what makes Bormes special for me is the combination of colours, from the orange and cream of the buildings to the dark green of the palms and cypresses, from the bright sparkling blue of the Mediterranean to the duskier blue greens of olives. vines, and chestnut trees on the surrounding hillsides.
There was a forest fire here yesterday – right behind our apartment. The hillside with path leading up to the chapel is covered in old olive trees, scented pines, and scrub, and there are lovely views looking down onto farms and vineyards below. However, with little rain and scorching sunshine for months now, the vegetation is tinder dry and late afternoon yesterday the hillside was enveloped in billowing clouds of smoke. We were first alerted to it by a neighbour knocking on our door and telling us to pack all our papers, in case we had to evacuate. This was followed seconds later by a deafening roar of helicopters and aircrafts zooming by overhead and causing the windows to shake. I sent my two sons out to reconnoitre while I panicked as to what to do. We have no furniture yet, just plastic garden chairs rescued from the roadside, my concern was the paintings I had set out to dry all around walls of the room. After hurriedly packing them into some large boxes and reassuring our puzzled, but thankfully not frightened, cat I went out to see what was happening for myself. Small crowds of people were gathered watching, wondering what to do, as the aircraft sprayed what appeared to be red dust (in fact a mixture of fire retardant chemicals) on the blaze.
Amazingly, it only took minutes – well, about ten – for the rescue services to get the situation under control. But then, forest fires unfortunately are a regular occurrence in the Var in summer, and the fire services here are on constant alert and well rehearsed as to what action to take. A striking contrast after moving over from Cornwall, England where in recent summers flood damage has been a major problem!
In the evening I climbed up through the terraces of olive trees to the chapel on top, and saw the full extent of the fire damage. It was sad to see the trees and shrubs blackened and the ground covered in ash – probably caused by a cigarette butt.
From the age of 15 I dreamed of living in France even though I had never been there, inspired perhaps by pictures of a storybook countryside full of chateaux and markets and by my father’s enthusiasm of the kindness of the French people he had met when in hospital in Amiens during the First World War. Years later, married and with children my family and I would go over to France on holiday every Summer, always to campsites, and during the rest of the year I would produce paintings as often as time allowed based on holiday snapshots and sketches. I guess through painting I was reliving the magic of the holidays, the bright sunlight and the vivid colours that I missed so much back in rainy England.
And now that I have retired I have at long last managed to make the move, and in spite of existing on a shoestring and difficulties in getting established, living in France is every bit as wonderful as I could have hoped for. To begin with we were staying in a holiday cottage in the Vaucluse, in an area known as the Luberon. The cottage was surrounded by fields of lavender, vineyards and orchards, and from the garden the view was of the hilltop villages of Bonnieux and Lacoste, which face one another on opposite slopes of the Luberon mountain range. However, the cottage was rented out over the summer months and so we needed to find a more permanent home.
This proved to be very difficult. The South, or ‘Midi’ as it is called, is very expensive and very sought after, making it difficult for someone in a slightly unusual situation and with limited funds. However, we eventually found a very understanding landlord with a lovely apartment and a wonderful view overlooking the small Var town of Vidauban. The Var is relatively undeveloped and unspoilt, and encompasses a long sandy coastline on the Mediterranean which is backed by the thickly wooded mountain range of the Maures, as well as rivers and gorges inland and a wealth of ancient villages. Vidauban itself is in the heart of a wine growing region and is surrounded by hills of either oak or scented pine. Our appartment, which overlooks the town, is built on the lower slopes of a rocky spur, the cone of an ancient volcano, at the top of which is the Chapel of Sainte Brigitte. We moved in during July to what feels like an artist’s dream!