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The little coastal village of Collioure continues to play muse to the entire Côte Vermeille—after all, it gave rise to the name of the Vermilion Coast, because the great painter Henri Matisse daringly painted Collioure's yellow-sand beach using a bright red terra-cotta hue.
For such artistic daredevilry, he was branded a "wild beast"—or Fauve—and then rewrote the history of art in the process. Considered, along with Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the modern period, Matisse (1869–1954), along with fellow painter and friend André Derain (1880–1954), discovered "Fauvism" en vacances in Collioure in 1905.
In search of inspiration, he and Derain holed up here during that summer, seduced by its pink and mauve houses, ocher rooftops, and the dramatic combination of sea, sun, and hills. Back then, the final touches of color were added by the red and green fishing boats. With nature's outré palette at hand, Matisse was inspired to passionate hues and a brash distortion of form.
At summer's end, Matisse made the trip to Paris to show his Collioure works at the Salon d'Automne, the season's biggest art event. Because the canvases of Matisse, Derain, Vlaminck, and Marquet were so shockingly hued, they were made to hang their paintings in a back room, Room 7. The public jeered at their work, saying they were primitive, coarse, and extreme. Room 7 became known as "the cage."
Before long, their sucess de scandale quickly won them new adherents, including the painters Rouault, Van Dongen, Braque, and Dufy. Fauvism became the rage from 1905 to 1908; by 1909 Matisse was famous all around the world.
Today Matisse's masterpieces grace the walls of the greatest museums in the world. In a sense, Collioure has something better: a host of virtual Matisses, 3-D Derains, and pop-up Dufys. Realizing this, the mayor decided to create the Chemin du Fauvisme (Fauvist Way) a decade ago, erecting 20 reproductions of Matisse's and Derain's works on the very spots where they were painted.
Matisse could return today and find things little changed: the Château Royal still perches over the harbor, the Fort Saint-Elme still makes a striking perspectival point on its hilltop, and the Plage Boramar still looks like a 3-acre "Matisse."
Pick up the Chemin's trail at the town's Espace Fauve by going to Quai de l'Amiraute (04-68-98-07-16) or check out its history at www.collioure.com.
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