“For a herbarium”: in the garden with Colette and Dufy

Here are lilies and lilies of the valley, poppies and anemones… But also brownies, wisteria and marigolds. And then roses, sovereign in the kingdom of flowers. Who better than Colette, country girl, explorer of sunken lanes, adventurer of meadows and gardens to evoke the rebirth of nature in spring? In 1951, under a soft pink canvas blanket, the author of Claudine and Vine tendrils published For a herbarium at Mermod, publisher then appreciated by bibliophiles: 22 chapters in the form of an ode to the awakening of the vegetable empire after the long numbness of winter.

Mixed feelings

Colette took out her finest pen and, in order to place a few colored bouquets between the pages, the painter Raoul Dufy was entrusted with the creation of eleven watercolor plates. Citadelles & Mazenod is now offering a facsimile of this work (1), an invitation to take a bucolic, artistic and literary stroll.

If Dufy’s hand, lifted by the breeze, is constantly happy, light and supple, Colette’s verb appears, rich in contrasts and mixed feelings. This lover of nature knows its treasures but also its poisons, intoxicating scents like “Fetidity”, this “Rapeuse scent which rises from a somewhat cursed herb, a little medicinal and hence a little poisonous” … The writer prefers it, however, to the sweet and insipid smells of a “Privet so loaded with sweetness that in its full bloom, it keeps us in check on the Cancalais trails”.

Fascinating poppy

If it was not trivial to marvel at Colette’s style as one gets drunk on an armful of lilies, one would quote almost every line, so much the novelist gives birth to worlds of sensations: at the evocation of ‘a blooming corolla, a powdery stamen or even a stem cut by a’ benevolent secateurs “. Beyond the poetic description, the intimate knowledge of plants inspires Colette with reflections, questions and concerns. Thus, the chapter dedicated to the poppy – opposite, a languid bouquet where Dufy has drowned the silk of the fragile petals in limpid water – opens vertiginous chasms: “This one, bruised with dark blue at the bottom of his scarlet cup, proud in the center of his native greenery bristling with itchy hair, is called” Mephisto “by timorous souls. But it was in vain that Félix de Vandenesse hired her to lead the sensual conquest of Madame de Mortsauf. Rather than dismantle it, the poppy would have put this ill-married bride to sleep …

Let’s go see if the rose …

As for the rose – universal sorceress honored with a ” uppercase initial »- she opens the ball, if not the spring blooms, and dialogues with Colette in the open field but also in the heart of the capital. Proud and thorny, she knows how to ward off assaults “Children from the first arrondissement, well known for their ferocity”! She is a majestic fairy who dresses in marvelous finery, unless, to deceive her world and descend for a moment from her throne, she consents to show herself “A bit bitten here, a bit scorched there”.

Yet Colette will never love roses as much as when “Torrential, they fill a tiny enclosure with a gatekeeper, cover a gardener’s cottage, trellis the wall of the rustic inn”.


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