Baie des Anges (1927) by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
WHEN Queen Victoria, in August 1861, while staying at Muckross House, Killarney, looked out on the Lower Lake, she saw what the song calls "Heaven's reflex". When American evangelist Billy Graham, who has preached to more people than anyone else, ever, went to spread the word in San Francisco, he announced that "the Bay Area is so beautiful, I hesitate to preach about heaven while I'm here".
When you're heading south on the DART, even in the rain, and you whoosh through the tunnel and suddenly before you lies the glorious expanse of Killiney Bay, then the words heaven on earth come to mind. Or when you're flying into Nice, whether on Aer Lingus or Ryanair wings, and beneath you lies Baie des Anges, then you just know that heaven is here.
The Bay of Angels is almost always sun-soaked and so beautifully, translucently, blue that it looks as if Failte France has dyed the water the most beautiful blues.
It's well named – open your eyes and floating, gliding, swooping angels are easily imagined.
Raoul Dufy, born in Le Havre, a greyer part of France, left school at 14, worked in the coffee-importing trade but began taking evening art classes four years later. Soon his life was his art, and though the Le Havre landscapes featured initially, like tourist and artist alike, he was drawn to the Riviera and produced sun-drenched, happy paintings that spanned 40 years.
Painted when he was 50, Baie des Anges features the curved expanse of bay, the palm trees on either side, the elegant figure with parasol, the distant terracotta roofs, the beautiful, domed Casino de la Jetee, plundered and destroyed by the Nazis, its metal used for weapons. Today, Bastille Day, the French are en fete. Their Revolution is long behind them. Time to take it easy and enjoy the sunshine. If we are lucky, we all get to glimpse a piece of heaven on earth. But what about the real thing, what about that place way up high and what are our chances of getting there? Is Billy Graham, now 94, heading that direction? Are any of us? Heaven knows. Only heaven knows.