Image of the Month — Café ‘La Ruche’ by Pat Harvey SGFA

Café La Ruche  Watercolour on paper

Café ‘La Ruche’
Watercolour on paper

“I am not sure where my love of France and all things French stems from. Possibly from having French forebears on both sides. But I do know that when, aged seventeen, I heard David Frost’s choice of Edith Piaf’s Non, Je ne Regrette Rien on Desert Island Discs, I was electrified, and embarked on a love affair with that country — and particularly its popular music, known as the chanson — which continues to this day.

What I did not know then was that 20 years later I would end up marrying the man who produced that compilation for EMI, the record collector and French specialist Ralph Harvey, and that together we would embark on an extraordinary collaboration involving several high profile television programmes and a series of record and CD compilations for which Ralph produced the sleeve-notes and I was privileged to prepare the artwork. This, of course, in addition to exhibiting with other organisations as well as the SGFA.

Part of the professionalism I gleaned from Ralph was the notion of specialisation. That was totally foreign to me as an artist and a person, and very difficult for me to master. But I could see the value of it, and began to focus on painting Paris. Thus began a series of visual hymns to the city I love. This painting is one of those hymns, and has a particular story.

Last year Ralph had a stroke which effectively ended our collaboration. Could I carry on? I decided to take a solo trip to Paris (weeping as I boarded the Eurostar) and ended up in the Boulevard Montparnasse, home to the legendary Art Deco literary cafe, La Coupole.

Almost opposite it is another café, ‘La Ruche’ (French for ‘beehive’). I settled down and looked furtively around me, clutching my i-Phone. Two things struck me immediately: the two gentlemen chatting in the corner, and the splendid girl in the foreground, checking her smartphone and surrounded by the debris of her afternoon snack.

I approached the gentlemen to ask if I could photograph them and was crisply refused: whereupon I did so surreptitiously! The girl did not present any problems. I must point out that my paintings are usually combinations of photos and drawing, as I organise the raw material to its best effect.

As a watercolourist, I have foresworn insipidity, and aim for vibrancy. This scene, so redolent of the contemporary city, fits the bill nicely.”

Editor’s note: Café ‘La Ruche’ was selected for DRAW 13, the 92nd Annual Open Exhibition of the Society of Graphic Fine Art. 

Profile of the artist

Pat Harvey SGFA FRSA is a watercolourist specialising in Paris, London and floral subjects. She has exhibited widely, including at Brighton Festival and the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour, and her work is in collections in France, Sweden, the UK and the United States. In conjunction with her husband, record producer Ralph Harvey, she has produced many illustrations for CD albums, including the French repertoire of EMI.

Pat is also a writer and researcher on art and French culture. She has collaborated on several high-profile television programmes, including a South Bank Show, “Hear My Chanson” (1996) and BBC4 documentary “Edith Piaf: Singing Her Life” (2006). She is a qualified and experienced Adult Education tutor who runs regular courses in her Sussex riverside home and currently writes on art for Third Way and Church Times. Pat is a Council Member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art and its Media Liaison Officer, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. For more about Pat’s work and her art courses please visit her web site at www.patharvey.co.uk.

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About Cynthia Barlow Marrs SGFA

Artist: I draw. Land planner: I was. Urban Sketcher: I am. SocietyofGraphicFineArt - The Drawing Society: I belong.
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5 Responses to Image of the Month — Café ‘La Ruche’ by Pat Harvey SGFA

  1. Susan Poole says:

    I like the vibrancy of this painting, and how interesting to hear the background that led up to its choice of subject and composition.

  2. Bob Ballard says:

    As always there is a lot more to Pat’s work than meet the eye at first glance. Leaving aside the always vibrant use of gouache (I assume it is), I am drawn to her humour – see the brown figure in the top left hand corner; the understated but always present surprises – see the distortion in the glass in the foreground; and the echoes of approaches we might not imagine to be Harveyesque- see the cropped hand, hair and ear in the bottom right hand corner. I am unsure if Pat was aware of it but I see Munch-like expressionist arabesques there – just refer to those women with wraith-like tresses whom he seemed to fear. Compositionally I am drawn to those three triangular negative spaces around the left arm and elbow of the young woman in blue. – entirely non-representational but very important.

  3. Jo Hall says:

    I like the overall composition and atmosphere. We are drawn to the young woman’s face yet subtley aware of the background conversation and the guy bending over. There is an air of something about to happen but at the same time the moment is fixed. I am intrigued by the sense of depth given by colouring the woman’s hair with red tints on the side nearest to us that are lacking in the hair framing the other side of her face.
    Returning to the composition, the woman’s face from the top of her forehead to her neck and triangle of white vest form an arresting elongated diamond shape which the eye cannot resist and is why we are so drawn to her face, There is also a trail of circular table tops which leads the eye from the foreground to the rear windows. This is not a boring straight line but a meander from the foreground left red table to the yellow table to the far right then the eye is swung left again back across the figure and toward the three white glass tables leading to the windows in the distance.
    The woman’s face is not only ‘contained’ by her hair and the V-shaped jersey. Our gaze is also directed to it by the echoing shapes of the white middle distance table and the circular brim of the hat of the man in the yellow coat. There are further journeys of colour and shape to be discovered in this delightful painting.

    • Pat Harvey says:

      Dear Jo
      I am overwhelmed by the power and complexity of your comments about ‘Cafe La Ruche’ .Not to mention flattered by the trouble you have taken to ponder it. I suppose like many artists I am astonished by traits that I would never consciously have spotted – like the diamond shape of the girl’s face and jersey, and the trail of the table-tops – but which in the eye of an aware beholder, become apparent. Your drawing attention to the ‘atmosphere’ and to the ‘air of something about to happen’ is particularly gratifying to me. Conjuring up atmosphere and telling a story or expressing an idea are important in my work. As a film-maker as well as a painter, my hope is that my paintings resemble films, and my films, paintings. Thank you for such a rich piece.

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