Provencal colours

The professional markets in the south of France start with a surge of people through the gates at 8h on the dot. Buyers run to bag pieces from their favourite suppliers. Things are pretty frantic for the first hour or so. Shipper’s labels are slapped on commodes and armoires and documents hurriedly filled out in triplicate, while other pieces are still emerging from the back of vans and are often bought before they touch the ground. Many visual feasts are glimpsed in the fray and at the end of a market I wish I had managed to photograph them. Once the pace has quietened it’s worth making yet another circuit and negotiating a last bargain or two. The markets end at lunchtime and the vast concrete floored hangars are too soon deserted, save for the occasional statue, chandelier in a packing case or armoire in isolated splendour.

Through the gates at the first of these markets I headed directly to the dealer who sells glorious and dramatic mirrors of all sizes. Sometimes a fragile gilded 18th century crest will have been given new life by fixing it onto a stronger substrate to stunning effect. I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. Those who rushed in just after me came a moment too late to buy, but one cannot be first everywhere and there were plenty of gorgeous things that had been sold by the time I reached them. I spotted some bundles of small blue 19th century paperbacks and would have snaffled the lot but someone picked them up and bought them in front of my eyes. Too late.

Greeting familiar dealers and seeing what finds they have unearthed is a pleasure. A portrait of a pensive woman in blue; a pale grey buffet with scalloped wooden trim at its base; large round folding garden table, white and rusted with elegant Marseillaise folding legs; petrol-blue painted trunk; a thick bundle of 18th century documents and bundles of love letters; pink check fabric; creamy glazed terracotta pots; ormolu candelabra; a large powdery blue double-doored cupboard; console tables with black tops and aged citrus yellowy bases all fell into my possession. Colours were vibrant or beautifully faded. Form and line so pleasing to the eye and hand.

Chalky drab green garden chairs were quickly purchased and hemp tea towels with red initials embroidered, as they had been lifted down from an armoire. I bought the box full and the dealer handed them to me saying, “Merci de votre sourire”, thank you for your smile.

I talked with another dealer about unexpected treasures that still turn up. He told me the eye popping story of the person who had picked up an scruffy note book for a couple of euros at the Arles Marché au Puces. The notebook had emerged during the clearance of a convent. It had belonged to Van Gogh. It is now apparently in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and a large donation has been made to the nuns.

The wind was getting up across the market and objects were being blown over, mirrors crashing dramatically to the ground. The sound of breaking glass was then followed by a hammering out of the mirror shards so the frame could at least be sold as found.  Tomorrow would be another professional market but for now it was time to return to the sea and Sylvie spent the night by a palm tree.

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