Café de Flore on the Boulevard Saint Germain is more than just a café, it’s a Parisian institution. Tourists and long-time bohemian residents alike cram together on the terrace to watch Paris go by. If you’ve already ticked off Café de Flore from your ‘To do’ list by nabbing yourself a seat on this famous terrace during Spring, you’ve done well. However, you probably would have missed one of the eaterie’s most interesting little features: the miniature Café de Flore within the Café de Flore!
Take your hot chocolate and madeleines inside on a cold winter’s day and amidst the art deco interior unchanged since World War II, you might notice a peculiar box in the corner of the room next to the windows…
It is the work of Charles Matton, a multi-talented French artist; painter, sculptor, illustrator, writer, photographer, screenwriter and movie director. Best known for his miniature Boxes, Matton was also a faithful and longtime patron of Café de Flore.
“Yes, with all certainty, the Café de Flore is part of my life, it is a piece of me”, Matton wrote in 2006 when he created his homage to the iconic café with his miniature box, “Petit Matin du Flore” (in the small hours of the night at Flore). Just imagine the patience and skill it takes to re-construct a mosaic floor, 1/7th of its original size …
In a booklet that accompanied the artwork gifted to the café, Matton writes about his cherished Left Bank haunt where he so often went to drink his guignolet kirsch and cross paths with Juliette Greco or Jean Paul Sartre. I’ve roughly translated some pieces of the text he wrote in 2006:
I went there for the first time around 50 years ago. I was doing my military service in the Ministry of Defence […] Flore was my own America, the opposite to my day in front of my Remington, the opposite of everything dull. I often recall the rainy evening one Autumn, I was walking, feet wet, especially the right one […] I entered the luminous cave, noisy, full of feminine boys and wanton goddesses. The ashtrays I remember well, filled with Lucky Strike cigarette butts stained with red kisses. Oh yes, it’s not surprising that I would end up at Boubal’s [Paul Boubal bought Café de flore in 1939]. Without knowing him yet, I liked him already.
Several years later, he would see me passing on the sidewalk, in pieces, destroyed by a terrible heartbreak and offer me a drink inside with his delicate silence that I’ll always know him for.
What gives Flore its charm is the certitude that we have, no matter what time, that we’ll see faces there, known or unknown, that feel like neighbours, with a concern for elegance, humour and most of all, tolerance.
When the artist died in November 2008, Café de Flore placed a sheer black cloth over his work in mourning. The box is a permanent fixture at the Parisian coffee house which has a rich heritage of exhibiting and promoting the arts.
Many other of Matton’s miniatures also revisit cherished memories from his own life, representing real world interiors of places he knew well. Carved from cast a carved resin, wood, paper, plaster and glass, they are mind-blowingly detailed at about 1/7th of their original size.
Here are a few other examples of his miniature works…
The Library of Columns in Tangier
The room of Paul Bowles in Tangier
Paul Bowles was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator. In France, Bowles became a part of Gertrude Stein’s literary and artistic circle. On her advice he made his first visit to Tangier which brought him critical and popular success with the publication in 1949 of his first novel The Sheltering Sky, set in what was known as French North Africa. He lived in Tangiers from 1947 until the end of his life.
Homage to Georges Perec
Left: Palace Theatre, Right: Atelier of a sculptor
A multi-exposure self-portrait of Charles Matton sitting inside one of his miniature enclosures.