The importance of Ajaccio for Matisse – Jacques Poncin relates with fervour

Immediately associating Matisse with ‘colour’ and ‘tones’ comes to mind as being the obvious – how could it possibly be otherwise, when the south and Ajaccio had such an influence on his art at a particular time of his life – he was totally amazed and literally swept away under the influence of such beauty, which would inspire and give birth to fifty-five creative works. We must remember he came from the north, and discovering the Mediterranean would be nothing less than an enlightenment.
A slight historic, for those who have yet to discover his role in Corsica.

My task was to meet Jacques Poncin, an ardent admirer and specialist of Matisse living in Ajaccio, and maintaining the heritage and souvenir of the artist.
An architect originally from Lorraine, having attended the Beaux-Arts in Nancy, and having worked with Art Sacré de Besançon until 1968.
In Corsica, he was Chef de l’Atelier des Sites et Paysages Corses in 1973 and author of: ‘Paysages bâtis en Corse’ (1994). His devotion and admiration would result in a book dedicated to Matisse in 2017: ‘Matisse à Ajaccio’ Ed. Piazzola.

It was in February 1898, Matisse arrived in Ajaccio with his wife Amélie, on their honeymoon. He was 29 years of age, and she was 25. They decided to leave the Parisian greyness, it was Amélie who chose Corsica. They rented the top floor of the Villa de la Rocca until July of the same year, which had been built by a journalist: Antoine de la Rocca. Painting and drawing would occupy his days, and one view in particular would hold his attention; the rear view of the hospital, which he could see very well from where he was living. At that time, it was completely yellow, but Matisse would choose blue, mauve and even pink. It would be reproduced in Ajaccio, at the demand of the Association of the ‘Amis de Matisse à Ajaccio’ in 2003, and placed in front of the hospital in 2007. It is necessary to note here, that they original painting ‘Mur Rose’ was taken by the Germans during the war, to be found and returned to the legal heirs later on.

This association is very active today. Founded in 1998 by Jacques Poncin, it has around seventy adherents, and celebrates twenty years of existence this year. The aim was to save the Villa de la Rocca, which was built in 1863 (where Matisse stayed with his wife). In 2003, it became a ‘bâtiment remarquable’, and since has been turned into flats. Today, this association awaits the official name ‘La Promenade Matisse’ to be acknowledged along the seafront, as steps had been taken in this direction as of 2013, it remains up to the authorities to continue in this direction and formalise as soon as possible.                

Marie-Dominique Roche, Chief Heritage Officer, and active member of the association met Matisse in Nice, when he was 83 years of age. He confirmed the revelation he had indeed witnessed in Ajaccio: the revelation of light.
It is with colour, that light is expressed‘. He would also have stated: ‘It was in Ajaccio, that I witnessed my greatest wonder for the south, that I did not know of beforehand’. According to Jean-Marc Olivesi, one-time curator at the Fesch Museum ‘The trip to Corsica by Matisse, was fundamental for the Western History of Art’. It would be on the road to the Sanguinaires, that Matisse would have discovered the first rays of fauvism.
Jacques Poncin, his wife Lucette and Marie-Dominique Roche helped Hilary Spurling (international art critic), find the trace of the artist and his wife in Ajaccio. Matisse would take pleasure in walking and painting the olive trees and the old mill. In a letter to his friend Salvetti, he wrote of these walks and of his visiting the Sanguinaires.

Jacques Poncin also has his word to say concerning architecture in general on this island. Without a doubt, he finds it was both modest and dignified before most of the modern constructions. This I find, rejoins many subjects in fact. There appears to be a time factor which continues to intrude and alter many landscapes. He would also like to see more figurative artists, and more passion about Matisse. It’s natural, when you feel so strongly about something or someone, your most hopeful wish is to share this passion with as many as possible, so that they may in turn, spread this fever with enthusiasm. It is understandable that it was through his love of drawing, that Jacques Poncin came to admire and follow Matisse in the first place.
For the future, one could imagine meetings and conferences for those interested, and the study of the works who found their source of inspiration in Corsica.
It has been clearly demonstrated that Jacques Poncin’s eagerness, devotion and precision have resulted in a wonderful, detailed book allowing the public to be informed with accuracy and care, of all that could possibly be of interest to each reader feeling attracted to the short but relevant stay of one of history’s most prominent artists: Henri Matisse.
May you also note, this book is in French and English. Highly recommended for those wishing to learn more about Matisse and the influence of Corsica.

Association des Amis de Matisse à Ajaccio
13 Bld Sampiero

Tel: 0495224601

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