Jul 20, 2014

Good Enough for Cézanne: Rollot


When my sister-in-law, who is an avid and very talented painter, visits Paris, it's only natural that she would end up discovering the Charvin fine paint store. It's a store that makes me desperate to paint, and to take painting lessons (which I would need, in order to paint). It's practically a work of art itself, and the paints are just gorgeous. And, well, if they were good enough for Cézanne -- and they were -- then who am I to quibble?

More recently, contemporary clients include Armando Cabba, Ronan Barrot, Claude Schürr, Fabrice Hyber, Gerard Garouste, Françoise Pétrovitch, and Pierre Carron. And these guys, who look like a living stereotype of French artists.

Charvin offers 208 colors in its fine oil paints, compared with around 100-140 for other elite oil paint brands, such as Winsor & Newton (119), Talens (120), Sennelier (145), Schmincke (100), Lukas (70), Maimeri (82), or Grumbacher (90). Charvin claims to have the most oil choices in the world, and purposely keeps their number much higher than their competitors. I've looked at dozens of paints -- all the big names -- and can't find anything that would come close to refuting that claim.
Whether you know it or not, you've seen and appreciated the rich, delicious, luscious Charvin colors on the walls of the Musée d'Orsay, the Guggenheim, the Met, the National Gallery of London, the National Gallery of Art in DC, or even (indirectly) on your college dorm poster.

The Paris branch has only been open a few years, but this fabulous paint has been made in small artisanal batches since the mid 19th century. There's also a New York City branch now (at 111 4th Ave in NYC), in conjunction with the exclusive American importer, Jerry's.

The operation has such a home-made ethos, they even have hand-sewn burlap bags for some of the smaller paint sets.
I wrote a tiny piece about Charvin for the Wall Street Journal, but didn't have nearly the space to show the wonders of the store in that space. Even if you're not an artist, it's worth a stop into the store just to see the beautiful colors. If you're anything like me, you'll leave the store dreaming of taking painting lessons.


Rollot, which is sometimes called Rollot de Picardie, also comes in heart form sometimes, at which point it is, unsurprisingly, called Coeur de Rollot. But whether it's round or heart-shaped, it's a soft, washed-rind, raw cow's milk cheese that hails from Picardie, in the very northern part of France. After a 6-8 week aging period in a humid cellar, during which time it is regularly washed, Rollot is both sticky and stinky.

Some sources say the cheese hails from an ancient abbey, the Abbey of Corbie, that is no longer in existence. Others say it comes from the monks of the Abbey of Maroilles; that, plus the geography of where the cheese comes from (northern Maroilles territory) would help explain its orange-pink, stinky, Maroilles-like pungency. And supposedly, Rollot -- in its original disk form, and not the more modern heart shape -- was introduced to the Court of Versailles and much appreciated by Louis XIV.


Charvin is famous for having a huge range of pinks. And you'd need a few interesting shades of pink if you were going to paint a Rollot cheese, with its reddish speckled crust. To my untrained eye, you'd want Permanent Violet Light, Light Cyclamen, Diamond Pink, Eva Pink, Hazy Rose, Purple Madder Lake, and a bunch of reds, oranges, yellows, grays, and whites, too.

While we're on the topic, I have no idea what paints Mike Geno uses, but he seems like the type of person who would appreciate this posting. As profiled last year in the New York Times, he's a painter who specializes in lush oil paintings...of cheese.



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