08 July 2020

Majorelle Blue: Interpretations of Color in Morocco

he first time I visited Morocco, I couldn’t stop taking photographs. The colors and light captivated me, whether I was in the vast dunes of the Sahara or pushing my way through a narrow, crowded city street at dusk. I scrutinized my decisions about potential subjects – people, places, objects— not wanting to reproduce a colonial gaze or fall into the easy rewards of tourist consumption. Yet the colors that filled daily life were enchanting.

A visit to Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech is often high on the list of art, fashion, and design aficionados. One step inside and you will understand why the place features as a popular photography spot for those wishing to adorn their Instagram accounts with vibrant colors.

Majorelle Blue: Interpretations of Color in Morocco

Source: majorelle blue, photo taken by the author

The garden and its dwellings – a main house and artist’s studio – are the creation of French painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962). Despite his works on canvas, many of them depicting daily life in North Africa, his real legacy is the ten-acre garden planted with an impressive array of cacti, succulents, bamboos, and over 400 varieties of palms, along with vividly painted structures and walls. Designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought Jardin Majorelle in 1980 and restored it after years of neglect.

Color is the main attraction here. The garden has its own special shade of clear, intense, cobalt blue, used to adorn the house, planters, pools, pergolas, and garden walls beginning in 1937. It is an ultramarine combination of blue and yellow that resembles lapis lazuli stone flecked with yellow pyrites. The inspiration for this hue came from his travels to the Atlas region of Morocco, noting its use in clothing as well as window trims in Amazigh communities.

The painter patented “Majorelle Blue” before his death, making its exact reproduction very costly. Fortunately, there is no shortage of copycat colors that can be purchased. Yves Saint Laurent, who claimed he was able to find an unlimited source of inspiration in the garden’s unique colors, used versions of the color in his design of clothing, shoes, purses, and nail polish.

Despite being touted as a must-see attraction for tourists, Jardin Majorelle is primarily a French interpretation on Morocco, as viewed by the painter and fashion designer who made it famous. In 2011, a Berber Museum was opened on the premises to showcase Amazigh culture, primarily through historical artifacts and jewelry. Yet the Jardin remains most famous for the sharp cobalt blue; even though it has deep origins in history, the color continues to feed an orientalist vision, “evoking Africa,” in Majorelle’s words.