Thursday, February 7, 2008

Los(t) Degas

I sure could go for a glass of that right about now. I'm all politicked out.

Thus, I submit to you, gentle reader, a mystery. It's not a mystery brimming with subtle complexity, nor as conspiratorial as Foucault's Pendulum, bien sûr, but hey, we are talking about Degas' pastels here, and thus, worthy of comment.

Tucked away beside a dry cleaners in a dark Paris courtyard, the firm that supplied Impressionist master Edgar Degas with the brilliant pastel colors used in some of his most famous pictures is still in business.

"La Maison du Pastel", a bare, unadorned boutique in the Marais district which appears virtually unchanged since the 1920s, is only open on Thursday afternoons and there is little from the outside to suggest its long tradition.

Until quite recently it was an almost clandestine operation run by three elderly sisters carrying on the work of their grandfather, Henri Roche, who took over the business in 1878. A worn tin plate marked "H.Roche" is still fixed to the door.
Sounds very noir, no? Secret passwords leading to a grim repository of alchemical formulae no doubt cloaked in the shadow cast by locked doors. The exorbitant price only adds to the tenebrous nature of the operation.
The end products are expensive. One small stick sells for about 12-18 euros ($17-$26), according to color and her biggest item, a box set containing all 567 colors costs 8,500 euros.
Yikes. I'll stick with acrylics, thanks. But Mademoiselle Roche, what about the secret ingredient?
But she keeps the formulas, some contained in handwritten notes from the 1920s, a secret and is even reluctant to reveal the exact location of the workshop.
Oh, mademoiselle, vous pouvez me dire. Je suis américain !
We're very trustworthy.

Dammit! La politique ! Je jette un mauvais sortilège à vous !


Dean Wormer said...

That story is remarkable. Oddly enough the famous Jacques Anton Crayola left a similiar secret operation to his grandchildren.

Mauigirl said...

How very interesting! Thanks for posting this. Who knew the people who supplied Degas with his pastels would still be in business?

I was always interested in the oldest woman in the world, the French woman named Jeanne Calment (spelling?) who died awhile back at age 122 - she once sold pencils to Vincent Van Gogh when she was a young girl in Arles.

Swinebread said...

still some magic and mystery left

Mary Ellen said...

Darn it, Randal! If you would have told me about this stuff I would have bought you the box set for Christmas! Instead, all you got was charcoal in your stocking to paint with. Sorry. Better luck next year.

Randal Graves said...

dean, any truth to the rumors that the Crayolas' secret ingredient was the ground-up, leftover medical school cadavers?

mauigirl, I love stories like this, an unbroken link to the past.

I can't even imagine 122, to have gone from a predominantly rural existence to the highly mechanized world of today.

"How much for two pencils?"
"One ear."

swinebread, I always hope there will be.

ME, fine, be that way. Now you'll never get some eye candy here!
And nice Lenten save on the 'darn,' that was truly fucking impressive.

Mary Ellen said...

Randal- Fine, you'll get your darned pastels in your Easter basket along with a few jelly beans. I'll be expecting my eye candy and a few jelly beans in return.

How am I going to make it through Lent...being good ain't easy ya know!

Spartacus said...

RG, when are you gonna tell us about the guy who invented painting by numbers? Cool story. Thanks.

Randal Graves said...

ME, okay, okay, I'll see what I can come up with. How about a sexy pic of Rummy?

Good? Bah. Join us on the dark side. We have all the sex, drugs and rock n' roll.

spartacus, shhh! That's even more a dark secret than this! We can never open that Pandora's Box.

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