Majorelle blue” is known to all lovers of Morocco and beyond, it is a trendy and decorative colour that is much talked about.
Its origin is well known, and you can indeed immerse yourself in a profusion of Majorelle blue by visiting the gardens of the same name, or the museum. And in Morocco, flower pots painted in the bold colours used in the gardens can be found everywhere: a bright yellow, a soft green and the famous Majorelle blue.
What exactly is Majorelle blue?
It is the blue used by the painter Jacques Majorelle to paint the walls of the modern villa he had just built, next to Bou Saf Saf, in 1932. In 1937, he painted this cubic house, which was white, an intense and brutal ultramarine blue: Majorelle blue was born.
In fact, Majorelle blue is part of the large family of ultramarine blues, just as lapis blue, Guimet blue and Klein blue, to which it is quite close.
It is a slightly warmer ultramarine blue than Klein blue and contains about 20% violet (a mixture of red and blue).
Its RGB value is R: 96, G: 80, B: 220, while IKB (Klein blue) has R: 33, G: 23, B: 125
Majorelle blue is not a traditional Moroccan colour
The blues used for painted woodwork, especially in palaces, or for dyeing the wool of carpets, such as those of the Aït Haddidou, were generally made from indigo. It was only later, with colonisation, that synthetic pigments were used. Real ultramarine was unaffordable for everyday use, and imports were limited, so people made do with what was available locally.
Lapis lazuli and ultramarine blues: a rich colour in every sense of the word
Afghan lapis lazuli give ultramarine blue
This deep, intense blue has been known since ancient times, in Mesopotamia, Egypt and among the Etruscans; it decorates the mask of Tutankhamen, made of gold inlaid with semi-precious stones, the bands of which are made of lapis lazuli.
Its name is a mixture of Latin (lapis for stone) and Arabic (azul, for blue), via Persian لاجورد (lâdjaward) because this stone arrived from distant Afghanistan via the silk routes.
Other deposits were later found in Chile and near Lake Baikal, or in the United States, but all ancient lapis come from Sar-e-Sang, mined for over 6,000 years and even today, the finest lapis lazuli come from Afghanistan and Iran.
It is an extremely expensive paint, as it is made from a gem that comes from far away. The lapis is ground into a powder to make a pigment that is called ultramarine, since it was shipped in from far away places (ultra marina in italian, or overseas). Its price makes it a colour of choice for religious paintings or the frescoes and ornaments of rich homes.
Lapis lazuli is used in the palaces of al-Andalus in Granada and in the Sistine Chapel. This expensive colour (the powdered pigment is sold at the weight of gold, sometimes more) is saved by applying a final coat on a less expensive blue, such as indigo.
“Guimet” blue or artificial ultramarine helps to lower the price
It was in the 18th century that a French chemist, Jean-Baptiste Guimet, invented a process that made it possible to produce synthetic ultramarine. This process made his fortune and became widespread very quickly, with all painters adopting it. It was therefore thanks to the founder of Pechiney that Majorelle could afford to paint his walls with ultramarine!
Nevertheless, it does not have the same intense luminosity as what is now called true ultramarine, whose mineral pigments play with the light (and conversely, fade in the relative darkness of the evening).
In any case, from the time of Louis Majorelle, Jacques’ father, ultramarine blue was easily found everywhere. It is a colour that will be used by the impressionists, the fauvists and that can be found on superb paintings, contemporary of Jacques Majorelle, such as the series of Blue Horses by Franz Marc.
Majorelle Blue in the work of Jacques Majorelle
Paradoxically, Majorelle makes little use of this fetish blue in his paintings. His Moroccan landscapes are also intense, but more in shades of ochre and red, enhanced by patches of various colours.
I have only found a few “Moroccan” paintings with this blue as the dominant colour: the Guedra and the oued in front of Aït Ben Haddou.
And yet, for the guedra, the true shade would be an indigo…
When he went down to Africa, he would use more blue, often in association with green.
His villa is also a work of art and it is there that he gives free rein to his love of blue!
There are actually two Majorelle blues
The walls of the villa and the various borders, the pillars, the stairs and the fountain are painted a deep ultramarine blue.
The pots are painted a softer blue, which is theoretically called Majorelle blue (at least the one with the RGB values R: 96, G: 80, B: 220). The intense ultramarine blue against which it stands out is nevertheless different from Klein blue, it remains warmer.
Is Majorelle Blue patented like Klein Blue?
I saw only one mention in the English Wikipedia post, of a “patent” that would have been filed by Majorelle, referring to a now defunct site, which itself did not cite its sources. This is false because :
- I searched in vain for this patent in international databases;
- one cannot patent a colour, but a manufacturing process (which Yves Klein did);
- when Yves Klein patented “his” blue, in 1960 (so just before Jacques Majorelle’s death), it was a great novelty, and he did it within the framework of an artistic approach, which was never Jacques Majorelle’s concern;
- unlike Klein Blue, it is not listed in the international reference bases defining paint colours, in particular the RAL.
Is the “Bleu Majorelle” trademark registered?
A trademark is different from a patent. It is a trade name that you reserve for yourself, which does not necessarily correspond to an invention but which differentiates you from your competitors.
There are rules for trademarks, which must be precise, not limited to common words corresponding to the products that are marketed. For example, “tax consultant” cannot be a trademark, “orange” can be the trademark of a telephone operator, but not of a fruit and vegetable seller…
There have been five “Bleu Majorelle” trademark registrations, all of which have been refused, or quickly terminated, no doubt following the intervention of the beneficiaries (Jacques Majorelle’s moral rights exist until 2032 and the Fondation des jardins Majorelle has registered numerous trademarks with the name “Majorelle”, which prevent its commercial exploitation).
You are therefore perfectly free to use “Majorelle blue” as a description of a product, of a post that you sell, like anyone else. And if you do, it must not be a misleading description, i.e. the real Majorelle Blue… which has no official definition.
End of the legal minute!
How to use Majorelle blue in decoration?
Recreating the Majorelle villa requires a space that allows it. Such a colour block risks being overwhelming and Majorelle blue can be used in small touches.
In the Moroccan style, you can paint terracotta or plastic flower pots, alternating some colours as in the Majorelle gardens, or keeping only blue. Window frames in deep blue highlight the outdoor landscape, like the frame of a painting.
I find, but it’s a matter of personal taste, that mixing this blue with others, more turquoise is not happy, and that it’s better to use softer shades as a complement and very bright, pale green or yellow, all depending on the brightness of the room.
And as an intense blue, it goes perfectly with pieces from Fez or even Chinese porcelain!