Scents of orange blossom waft on the air, but it’s the aroma of coffee and freshly baked croissants which draws us to Francine and Pierre’s lovely Artisan Patissier Chocolatier on the historic Rue Saint Sauveur. A shady spot under a tree beside an ancient water fountain, I sketch the scene – dappled shade on the narrow street, bright flowers in a raised planter, wonderful old doorways and shutters, the quiet of a late Saturday morning.
Our afternoon is spent in the Musée Bonnard, sketching the beautiful paintings and drawings of Pierre Bonnard, an artist who shone a transcendent light onto the intimate and ordinary passage of daily life. Almond trees in Spring, gardens, windows and breakfast tables, and tender studies of his beloved Marthe through the years.
The simplicity and fluid ease of his drawings gives us a glimpse of how natural and effortless it could be. In his notebook he wrote about his morning sketch walks – “Mais çela fait vivre” – “it brings you alive”. An art critic wrote of Bonnard’s paintings “the artist transposes Mediterranean light into a sensual poem suffused and rippling with a radiant joy”. It was a joy to be there.
In the evening we wander up through the old town to Place Bellevue to watch the sun go down – sketchbook in one hand, glass of Provence Rosé in the other and the Mediterranean stretching blue to the horizon. Life is good!
The next day we take a short boat ride from Cannes to Île Saint Honorat, the smaller and less visited of the Lérins islands, and a monastic retreat since the fifth century where a community of monks continues to cultivate vineyards and olive groves. A place of quiet contemplation, Saint Honorat is a world apart from the noise and rush of Cannes, yet just a short distance across the water.
The island is a haven of peace and a sketcher’s paradise – forest trails, vineyards and olive groves all surrounded by breathtaking blue sea. The sun has come out and we sit on warm rocks to sketch the view and enjoy our picnic from the market.
On Friday we take the local bus through a verdant Spring countryside to Valbonne, a lovely authentic village with a lively and colourful Friday market. A sunny café in the Place des Arcades is our perfect spot to sketch the scene over coffee and croissants before exploring the quiet alleys of the old town.
It’s been a full week of sunshine, relaxation, and beautiful and interesting places to discover, deeply enriched by the practice of sketching. With sketchbook in hand, we soak it all in and take home a rich visual record of our travels – markets and museums, vineyards and villages, olive groves, courtyards and cafés – an unforgettable glimpse of the essence of this special corner of the Côte d’Azur.
Brenda Malley is a professional artist and art tutor based in Greystones, on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland. She has been sketching since her student travels in the 1970s and conducts classes and workshops around Ireland and in France. Her blog and website may be viewed on www.brendamalley.com