‘Visions of Paradise’ – a presentation by Pat Matyot-How Seychelles has inspired foreign artists over the centuries


Mr Matyot (far left) giving his presentation

It was an artistic journey spanning several centuries, starting with a chart drawn by Italian cartographer Alberto Cantino in 1502, showing Seychelles’ geographical position. Mr Matyot noted that Cantino was an Italian secret service agent.

First mention of Seychelles’ unique nut – the coco de mer – was in documents from the explorations of Ferdinand Magellan.

Then came paintings of French painter Pierre Sonnerat in 1776, such as Vues des Sechelles and Vues de Coetivy.

One famous name is Paul Gauguin who also painted Seychelles scenes and was for a while associated with no other than Van Gogh.

Many of the illustrators never visited Seychelles.
Several paintings of our islands also appeared in the ‘Illustrated London News’ of United Kingdom, which at the time boasted a circulation of 300,000. These included a drawing of the warship HMS Lyra disembarking liberated slaves in Seychelles.

The most notable artist who arrived in Seychelles and was inspired to paint various scenes is Marianne North. Mr Matyot noted it was obvious that Ms North had a passion for the coco de mer, which is featured in several of her works, including ‘Moonlight’ and ‘Vallée de Mai’. Ms North also took a liking to several of our islands’ plants and flowers which appear in so many of her paintings.

Over the centuries, the coco de mer has not only featured in so many paintings, but has also been engraved and adorned with gold and silver. This was initially done by artists working for the Hapsburg Empire in 1602.

Similar enthusiasm was also shown by artisans and silversmiths from India, Iran and Sri Lanka. In more recent times, the coco de mer was to inspire Marie-Laure Viebel, wife of ex-French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who made a perfect replica of the coco de mer from glass.

There is also Henan de Vries, a South African who has a display for 24 ‘bigornos’ found on a beach.
“They are all of the same species, yet are different in more ways than one,” said Mr Matyot.

J. L.

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