16 décembre 2014

Matisse - a cut above the rest

The weather wasn't kind to the large group of art lovers who filled the Dark Horse Coffee House on Wednesday 10 December to be escorted by Aine MacParland through the colourful world of Henri Matisse.
Aine's enthusiasm for her subject was readily apparent as she flicked her way through her iPad presentation.  She began at Le Cateau-Cambresis in Northern France where Henri-Emile-Benoit Matisse was born on New Year's Eve, 1869. Aine explained that although his father was a grain merchant, the family background was one of weaving and the young Henri grew up surrounded by a variety of colurful fabrics.
He had graduated as a lawyer and had been destined for a careeer in that profession until he suffered a bout of appendicitis.  It was while recovering from this that his mother provided him with some art materials and he discovered what he called a kind of paradise, throwing hiimself into that new world as a beast plunges into something it loves.
Referring to several works, Aine took us on a style journey - stopping for a while to consider and explain how Matisse came to be associated with the movement of the Fauves, the wild beasts.
We were introduced to some key people in Matisse's life among them his wife Noellie from whom he would later separate and Russian art collector, Sergei Shchukin who considered the artist's work to be above the rest.
Aine went on to explain that Matisse received much unfavourable criticism of his work and that along with his wont of buying works of other artists and his own materials often meant that his young family found it difficult to make ends meet.
We learned that, in 1917, Matisse moved to Cimiez outside Nice on the French Riviera, Aine all the while pointing out the qualities of his art, bringing us through a series of paintings to 1939 and the aforementioned separation from Noellie. Shortly afterwards a further period of illness meant the artist had a colostomy with mobility only possible with the use of a wheelchair.
Matisse overcame the confinements of this situation through "painting with scissors", creating his famous gouaches découpés - cut outs - many of which Aine noted had been recently displayed in the Tate and were currently showing in the MoMA in New York.
Caring for Matisse in what would be the later stages of his life was his nurse, Monique Bourgeois. We learned that Monique in addition to being Matisse's nurse was also his student, sometimes model and artist who would later become a Dominican nun.  It was their association, that would provide Matisse with what he considered his masterwork - the decoration of La Chapelle de Vence on the hillside above Nice, completed in 1951.
The artist died in 1954 and was buried in the cemetery of Cimiez where four year's later his wife, Noellie would be enterred alongside him.

Finally, Aine took questions from the audience and as an artist herself confirmed that she would provide us with a iPad painting that we could present on our site as a record of a most memorable and colourful evening on the modern master Matisse.

13 décembre 2014

Matisse evening

Thanks to Louise Scott of French Vintage Vie for sharing this photo from Wednesday evening's talk by Aine MacParland on Matisse. A report on the evening, accompanied by Aine's promised ipad painting will be posted shortly.

Meantime, we'd like to see your comments or any pictures you would like to share.

À bientôt.



24 novembre 2014

Tour de France des Pâtisseries

Forty foodie francophiles found their way to the Dark Horse Coffee House for an evening in the company of Hélène Guillet and Philip McCrory who treated us to their Tour de France des Pâtisseries.

The now celebrated double act started with a good breakfast example in the form of a croissant, dipping between English and French, along the way discussing the merits of pur beurre de Normandie proving methods and whether the pastry was frozen or not. The discussion didn't last long because there were another ten treats to come.
The patisserie partnership provided a page of clues for participants to guess what might be next. Second on the list was a hit for cycling fans, not the Tour de France but the epic Paris-Brest endurance race, commemorated in the famous cycle-wheel bun.

Next up was a tantalising Tarte Tatin which some members recalled had featured in a dedicated talk of its own several years ago with Claudine reminding us that its birthplace was Lamotte-Beuvron in the Région Centre.
Attention shifted to a butter cake made in the fishing port of Douranenez in Brittany. No-one deduced that it was the Kouign-Amann. Et toi?
Fans of the Great British Bake-Off reported that the Gâteau St.Honoré, named after the patron of bakers and pastry makers had not only featured on that programme but also on James Martin's Saturday Kitchen. French pastries get around!
The Gâteau Basque was an interesting find and Hélène, who had sampled quite a few of the delicacies purely in the interests of research, pointed out that this cake can have two different fillings each designated by distinctive designs on the crust. Also interesting was the youngest of the recipes; a relative new-comer the Opéra cake was created by the Dalloyau Gastronomy House in the 1950s.
Members agreed that the Religieuse, so-called because of its ressemblance to a nun in habit, was aptly named.

Up to now participants had deciphered the clues fairly quickly but it took a bit of coaching on Hélène and Philip's part to get the next one.

The clue focussed on pictures of a couple of lengthy books and led us to A la recherche du temps perdu - Marcel Proust's masterwork. The connection?
This became apparent as Helene read an extract from the first volume, Du Côté du Chez Swann, in which the author visits his Aunt Léonie for Sunday morning tea and Madeleines. Proust recalls years later how the taste of a madeleine transports him back across time and place. It turns out that the madeleine was a firm favourite among those present with several helpfully suggesting that local supermarkets stock the Bon Maman fleur d'orange variety.
Tenth on the list was the Millefeuille whose clue Philip had decided to illustrate with a centipede. It may not have been the most obvious comparison but was immediately guessed. Hélène noted that the mille-feuille as we know it today was developed by Marie-Antoine Carême - the celebrity chef of his day - which prompted Claudine to point out that the surname Carême means Lent in French.
There was one more delicacy to comment.
At this point Helene and Philip graciously offered the floor and introduced Tracey Jeffrey, patronne of the locally based Eva Paris Macarons company, who to the delight of those present had brought along some samples of her products for a dégustation.

Tracey, a former teacher and trainer, explained how some years ago she returned to a French pâtisserie she had once worked in and had been taught the art of macaron making. It was not a skill to be acquired overnight or even a few weeks. She explained that it took some years to get the result she wanted, experimenting with natural flavours. Her efforts paid off, with both her macarons and her business winning awards.

Hélène, Philip and Tracey had provided a thoroughly enjoyable evening with macarons being the icing on the cake so to speak and where seeing the delight on the face of members was a treat in itself.lose