It was quite by chance that I discovered this forgotten artist.
I was living in Pondicherry South India in the late 90’s. A pleasant enough town if you live on the right side of the canal, although unless you have air-con, insufferably hot during the long afternoons. I was fortunate to live on the right side, that is, in the french part of town, one block from the sea front. From my roof garden I could catch the breezes that arrived with the monsoon season but the rest of the year all one could do was to take cold showers and lie under the slow moving ceiling fan until the sun set with its usual abruptness so close to the equator.
It was always a pleasure to ride on my faithful and much loved Hero, HERO being the standard bicycle manufactures trade name, which I rather liked, along with its racing green colour and shinny chrome beneath the trees and over the bridge to the French bakery across the canal as soon as it was cool enough to venture out. The bakery was air conditioned with a cafe. As was the bookshop next door. This was an especially favorite haunt, packed with classics in English, children’s as well as adult fiction, famous literary works, travel books, reference works and the Arts.Well known as a valued customer by the owner, he would proffer a stool so that I could comfortably browse for as long as I liked.
It was there in the window, halting my passage, The Forgotten Orchids of Alexandre Brun. I went in and without hesitation, splurged nearly my entire months household budget and bought the only copy.
A Frenchman, born in Marseilles before the age of photography, Alexandre Brun was commissioned to paint the orchids of a passionate collector of the then rare plants. Their fame and rarity in fin de siécle France had made them an obsession akin to the better known Tulip fever of the seventeenth century.
The book is full of prints of these spectacular paintings. The artist, as forgotten as his orchids. Their strange other- worldliness captured on the pages, they live still. The dark backgrounds, served to dramatize them even further and inspired me in many of my own paintings, to this day.
Maybe, that adage comes again to mind in his case, that as long as you are remembered, a part of you, or your work still loved, then you never really die.