Ceret, the refuge of Picasso, Matisse, Soutine and Chagall
This medieval city is the French gateway to the sunny lands of Catalonia, in neighboring Spain, bathed by the scent of mimosas and cherry blossoms.
It became the cradle of the most important movements of modern painting of the twentieth century. When he arrived in Ceret, in 1911, Picasso was already reaping the benefits of his work. The times of hunger and cold in his studio in Montmartre in Paris, when he was forced to burn his sketches in the fireplace in order to keep warm, were far behind him.
He came to live in the village full of new plans and renewed strength, invited by Catalan painter and sculptor Manolo Hugué. Soon thereafter, painters Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Juan Gris came to town.
A small community of young avant-garde artists was formed there. Art forms ranged from painting to sculpture, poetry to music. Ceret became known as “the Mecca of the Cubists”. The first collages as artistic expression also first appeared there.
In 1919, after World War I, a second wave of artists coming directly from Montparnasse in Paris, landed in Ceret, with painters such as Chaim Soutine, Raoul Dufy and the poet Jean Cocteau. The third wave of artists set their base in the village during the World War II, with Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet and Tristan Tzara fleeing Nazism.
This rich cultural past is celebrated at the Museum of Modern Art of this small town of 7,500 inhabitants in the southwest of France, in the Pyrénées-Orientales region.
The museum, which displays works donated by Picasso and Matissse, among other artists who lived there, was created in 1950 with the support of painters Pierre Brune and Frank Burty Haviland, heir of the Limoges porcelain factory, with help of the local town hall.
And all Ceret breathes art and culture. Traditionally, there are good visual arts exhibitions in the old church La Capelleta, in Salle Manolo, next to the Tourism Office, and in its art galleries.
Mimosas and cherries
The mild climate and the golden light that was so appealing to painters, also made the city propitious for cultivating mimosas, which flood the air with the scent from their flowering, when they cover the hills with yellow and white flowers.
Ceret is also famous for cherry trees that spread over the green fields.
Due to its geographical location, climate and soil, the first cherries of France ripen there, the first fruits, which in the past were always offered to kings.
Currently, the Ceret Cherry Festival takes place in late May. There is a whole local gastronomic heritage based on the fruit, which is used in pies, jams, jellies, in a delicious brandy and even in beers and liqueurs.
Besides these specialties, restaurants and cafes in the village offer various types of hams, sausages and cold cuts, which can be enjoyed with the remarkable wine of the region.
Another good gastronomic option is the village street fair on Saturday mornings, and the evening street fair on Tuesday nights during summer.
In June, the attention is turned to flamenco dance performances or to the habaneras shows, local traditional music. The bullfights are also part of the city’s culture, and they have a special presentations calendar for this. For its strength, beauty and magic, Ceret continues to fascinate all those who visit.