On Sunday night I went to the opening of the Vanessa Somers Vreeland exhibition at Galerie Re, which was hosted by her family and friends as a tribute.
Beyond the glittering beauty of the mosaic artwork itself what struck me was the verve with which this lady seemed to have lived her life – which we discovered during speeches by her family and friends. She was it seems a fearless and beautiful lady who ran away from home at 17 to go to Paris, struck a modelling deal (some of her portraits are showing at the exhibition), married a multi-millionaire and travelled the world.
She married twice and lived with her second husband Frederick ‘Freck’ Vreeland (the former US Ambassador to Morocco) between Italy and a house in Le Palmeraie (an oasis so named due to the numerous palms said to have sprung up from date seeds buried by soldiers in the area during the Almoravid Empire). The house was designed detailed by a friend of mine, architect David Kitt. The day after the exhibition opening, I had the chance to visit this house and another Vanessa and Freck had commissioned in the Atlas before Vanessa died.
As with much of art a true appreciation comes not just from hovering around the work itself glass of wine in hand, but understanding where it came from. It was therefore a privilege to feel like I was getting closer to Vanessa, what she was inspired by and how this was reflected in her mosaic work during these visits the following day.
The Le Palmerie house features some of Vanessa’s mosaics on the interior walls and a stunning large piece which adorns the swimming pool. Visiting the house you feel like you are tripping back to a different era in Marrakesh, it feels both bohemian and idiosyncratic. There is a maze, and in the old days the family had their own camel tethered in the garden for rides at the house. The house comes in two parts the ‘dollshouse’ and ‘the big house’, when it was first built it stood on its own, now it is joined by some wealthy neighbours.
Finding a quiet and scenic spot for a second house on the Ourika Road on the way to the Atlas unearthed what is now an architectural dig at Aghmat as important as Volubilis, which with funding will be accompanied by a museum telling the story of the 1000 year old space which housed a mosque, hammam and palace and was said to be the original 1st City of the Almavoid Empire and home to famous queen Zainab before the waters there dried up.
To find out more, visit Gallerie Re and immerse yourself in the inspiring story of an adventurous and creative Marrakchi.