The Reading Room

A Year in Provence

Paul Hogarth’s collaboration with Peter Mayle….

Few, let alone the author himself could have predicted the incredible success of his book on life in Provence. After a sluggish start it went on to sell a million copies in the UK and six million more worldwide, it would become one of the best known travel books of all time. Not bad for a book many first assumed was a novel.

In 1991 the artist Paul Hogarth embarked on a series of paintings to illustrate a new edition of the book, Hogarth was delighted to return to France and Luberon, and as he describes in his autobiography; the newly dubbed ‘Peter Mayle’s Provence’. This would prove another opportunity for Hogarth to collaborate with an author, having already worked with Graham Greene, Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell. These were formidable (and older) authors and so Hogarth felt more at ease with this project than any other, it was a project which enabled him to stay in one location and enjoy the fruits of the area as well as Mayle’s company.

Hogarth spent a month creating initial drawings of the countryside, villages and locals before taking them back to his London studio to work on properly. He compared the area to his other home, Majorca where the villages all harked back to the days of the Roman Empire, where wild flowers grew in dusty fields and the houses gave the artist wonderful opportunities to create colour and shade.

Hogarth’s knowledge of France and its people are clearly evident in his paintings, he captures the characters brilliantly, what I always admired about Hogarth was his ability to capture the pace of life, particularly those in which pace was dictated by the people and not imposed upon them.

Can anything be more illustrative of this than a man playing the French game of boules ? A wonderful symbol of French life and the comradeship of the older generation. Hogarth always kept his characters simple, less was always more and in this book he drew a great many more characters than in his previous collaborations.

Provence is an artists palette in many ways, those famous lavender fields cry out to be recreated in water colour and Hogarth’s landscapes give Mayle’s words a renewed energy and sense of longing for an alternative lifestyle. It was that sense of ideal which captured the imagination of so many, both author and artist had discovered that for themselves and it wasn’t long before others, financially able to, were doing the same which in turn drove the book sales and inspired other authors to copy Mayle’s format.

Each chapter is divided into months and Hogarth created twelve large paintings plus one for the wrap-around cover of the villages of the Luberon to accompany the text.

This copy, The Illustrated A Year in Provence was published in the autumn of 1992 and as Hogarth described “took on a life of its own” By the second week of publication it was on the Sunday Times top ten best seller list and remained there for a month. The book proved hugely popular in the UK, attracting Francophiles from all parts of the country to their book signings. Hogarth exhibited the originals at the Francis Kyle Gallery and within a week every one had been sold.

It is a beautiful book, there are decent second hand copies still to be found and for fans of either author or artist it is a must have book. A labour of love indeed for Paul Hogarth and a wonderful way to reconnect with Mayle’s world.

More information including a bibliography of Paul Hogarth can be found here

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