In 1917, at the age of 31, Jacques Majorelle arrived in Tangiers on his first visit to Morocco. Overawed by the country, he would eventually spend the rest of his life there. As early as 1923 he began work on his villa in Marrakech, built in the Moorish style, and whose gardens, restored with Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergi, are now world famous.
Majorelle followed in the footsteps of Delacroix and the famous Orientalist painters who had travelled to North Africa in the mid-19th century. However he developed and created a new pictorial language in which the legacy of Orientalism is subsumed to the new modernist currents in paintings. The painter leaves behind the imaginary Orient, the fashionable Harem scenes, Fantasias, Palace guards, to focus more on everyday subjects: the souks, the markets and city life. In 1919, he embarked on his first expedition to the Atlas Mountains where he discovered a fascinating new world and a wealth of new subjects. He was entranced both by the abstract mud brick architecture of these remote, almost feudal villages, assemblages of fortified Kasbahs known as Ksars, and by their inhabitants who seemed to live in another age.
In the present work, it is the local people that interest the artist. We are not in the historical centre of Marrakech but on the periphery. The architectural background is rustic but serves as a perfect setting for the figures, aligned in an almost frieze-like composition, which gains an impressive monumentality. Majorelle plays on the contrasts between the earth tones and the deep colours of the traditional clothing. The technique he uses is unique, starting with a black carton from which he draws out luminous contrasts, building up the figures in reverse, and finishing the whole with his signature highlights of gold and silver paint. This work is highly significant as it combines Majorelles genuine interest in the daily life of his adoptive country with his highly modern and distinctive style.