A wee study for a new watercolour in the making. It’s a very small 4×4 inches format on soft handmade 120-grammes watercolour paper (hence very hard to work with as my preferred grammage is 600 g which is a bit like cardboard and suits my style of painting best as I keep adding layers and layers and layers as in this picture)

Himackerel sky betjemanToday’s challenge is half light and the subject must be inspired by a poem. I couldn’t find a photo which matched such criteria. But I did paint a watercolour on Betjeman’s “Devonshire Street, W1” poem and it’s set in half light so I believe it will do. Here is the poem.


The heavy mahogany door with its wrought-iron screen
Shuts. And the sound is rich, sympathetic, discreet.
The sun still shines on this eighteenth-century scene
With Edwardian faience adornment — Devonshire Street.

No hope. And the X-ray photographs under his arm
Confirm the message. His wife stands timidly by.
The opposite brick-built house looks lofty and calm
Its chimneys steady against the mackerel sky.

No hope. And the iron knob of this palisade
So cold to the touch, is luckier now than he
“Oh merciless, hurrying Londoners! Why was I made
For the long and painful deathbed coming to me?”

She puts her fingers in his, as, loving and silly
At long-past Kensington dances she used to do
“It’s cheaper to take the tube to Piccadilly
And then we can catch a nineteen or twenty-two”.

— John Betjeman

This is a small street perpendicular to Marylebone, North of Oxford Street in the heart of London. John Betjeman, a famous poet of the twentieth century and even of the post-war period, known for his sense of humour, particularly touched me with this poem full of fatalism, which tells the story of a man whose end is predicted, inevitable. An X-ray under his arm, accusing, ruthless, he holds his wife by the hand and looks at the house opposite, haughty, motionless, showing its brick chimneys standing out against a sky which looks like the skin of a … mackerel! The incongruity of the metaphor, encouraged me to make this drawing for this poem, which deals almost lightly with such a serious, banal subject, a subject which unfortunately comes back to us so often at the moment.

Betjeman has often been despised for not being a ‘poet of light verse’, an author who would be ‘enjoyed by the Queen Mother‘, but it is without consideration for this image that, almost by chance, I came across, while browsing through Edward Lucie Smith’s post-war anthology of British poetry.

I chose this poem which touched me by its simplicity and yet the richness of its theme, while remaining light (in the end, life goes on anyway, with the almost trivial question about the choice of bus or metro). Minstrels’ analysis of the poem is very accurate, don’t miss it.

From a pictorial point of view, a few novelties with new home-made colours, a French vermilion intended – in opaque and successive washes – to make the red of the brick houses stand out even more, and a green earth that I have also tinkered with (the colour at the bottom of the page) which turned out to be rather strange both in its texture and its rendering, but which produced a bizarre and almost unreal moiré effect that I liked and decided to keep.

Saint Jacques at day-break

One day I was looking for new subjects and while browsing my notes I then took a look across the back of our building and then I realised that there was so much happening around us that I might even probably uncover a few dozen subjects in themselves just looking at the buildings around me, the people behind windows, some dressed, some not, having a cup of coffee in the kitchen or watching TV or even just having a stroll between four walls and possibly talking to themselves in the privacy of their apartments. For those wondering where St Jacques in Paris is, here’s a map courtesy of Google.

That’s how I got started on the St Jacques series, a collection of drawings and watercolours showing the buildings around the area, and catching glimpses of the lives that are unfolding before our very eyes at various moments of the day.

My number 1 watercolour of Saint Jacques was dedicated to mornings, a minute description of what was going on at day-break with people having breakfast, walking around in their bathrobes or even working from home as I do so often myself.

St Jacques at Night

Number 2 is about the same area at night, only from a different angle and with a different size, a picture in which only a few brightly lit windows are emerging from a huge dark mass of concrete and stone walls, the textures of which at that time of night cannot even be perceived anymore.

Number 3 is a triptych version of an evening in Saint Jacques, not yet so dark as the night one but quite dark though. As it happens, I finalised evening number 2 even before evening number 1 had been started so expect the original to appear later on this blog after its sequel.

3. Saint Jacques - evening no. 2 - Triptych
3. Saint Jacques – evening no. 2 – Triptych

As I am getting ready for the Aquarella 2009 exhibition which is due to take place in the West of Paris (Rueil Malmaison to be precise), I have recently produced a new series of rooftop watercolours the idea of which was initiated years ago (see bottom picture). I added a sequel to that rooftop picture by providing another view in the opposite direction taken from nearly the same place, i.e. a stone’s throw from the Blois Cathedral of Blois in the Loire Valley.

Rooftops in Blois - No.2
Rooftops in Blois - No.2 - final version (click to enlarge)

This is only step two in a series of rooftops watercolours which I will issue as I go along this summer as I am building up my stock for the Aquarella event which will take place on Sept 13 (the poster will be added to the blog soon) .

Rooftops in Blois no.2 - 2009

Should you wish to have a close look at the various stages leading to the final version of rooftops in Blois no. 2, click here to see my Posterous report which pictures of the various steps.

Below is a reproduction of version 1 of the Rooftops in Blois series.

CLICK TO ENLARGE - rooftops in Blois

(click the thumbnail to enlarge Rooftops in Blois – May 2005)

Le prophète


Le prophète de Louis Derbré


Nouvelle étude au Luxembourg avec l’installation temporaire de Louis Derbré, Le Prophète.

Il s’agit d’un petit format carré sur papier artisanal très difficile à travailler car il boit beaucoup l’eau, ce qui est une gageure pour moi car je travaille en majorité sur surfaces sèches, ce qui oblige même sur de si petites surfaces à attendre longtemps avant de passer plusieurs couches. C’est ce qui explique que, même si les aquarelles sont petites, elles prennent beaucoup de temps, voire même plus de temps si elles sont très petites (proportionnellement). A noter que sur des papiers à fort grammage, je peux être amené à passer jusqu’à 6-7 couches différentes sur une même surface avant d’avoir obtenu la teinte et le rendu voulu. 

C’est le cas notamment sur l’aquarelle en tiptyque égal intitulée ‘les toits de Blois

Luxembourg - étude de jardinLuxembourg – étude de jardin

Nouvelle étude pour le jardin du Luxembourg. Vue d’angle à l’est du jardin, vers le Sénat cet hiver. Première approche, plus classique que d’habitude, avant transformation et stylisation. Une récente série d’ailleurs superposant vue classique et symbolisme me donne des idées, en accentuant le côté abstrait de ma figuration. A suivre …

étude (première étape)
étude (première étape)



J’en profite pour prévenir que le 2ème dimanche de Septembre, Aquarella aura lieu à Rueil Malmaison, comme d’habitude.

 note: pour retrouver les notes numériques servant à préparer mes aquarelles, visitez le microblog http://ygourven.postrous.com

Blenheim Palace Fountain
Blenheim Palace Fountain

Je reprends sur ce blog après quelques mois d’interruption et avec plein de nouveaux projets dont nous verrons les jalons ici même au fur et à mesure de leur réalisation. Depuis quelques semaines j’ai en effet repris les pinceaux de façon assez active, afin de préparer Aquarella 2009 qui aura lieu à Rueil Malmaison, le 1er dimanche de Septembre, sur les berges de la Seine comme tous les ans

Première de la liste, voici cette vue à l’aquarelle – longtemps repoussée, mais gardée précieusement en projet – d’une fontaine du palais de Blenheim en Angleterre (format carte postale).

Blenheim Palace est la “demeure du 11ème duc de Marlborough (que les Français connaissent bien grâce à la chanson ‘Marlbrough s’en va-t-en guerre’ et dont vous verrez les vers et l’origine ici) et le lieu de naissance de Sir Winston Churchill” si l’on en croit le site web de Blenheim Palace. Le palais est sis dans le comté d’Oxfordshire, au nord-ouest d’Oxford.

Le palais est une demeure du début du 18ème siècle, construite par le duc, est “installé dans 850 hectares d’un superbe parc paysager créé par ‘Capability Brown'” et est entouré de vastes pelouses, de jardins ordonnés et d’un superbe lac”.  

J’ai choisi ici de tourner le dos à ces superbes parcs paysagers et de me focaliser sur cette superbe fontaine à Atlantes dont le fond turquoise est resté bien présent en ma mémoire. Pour les visiteurs dont l’âme serait touristique, je conseille la vue la plus célèbre du palais avec le pont qui domine la rivière et dont voici la photographie (en haut) http://www.blenheimpalace.com/thepalace/untoldstory/)