Biographies from Provence

The following is a list of biographies of people who lived in Provence. And books on artists inspired by the region. These authors have done extensive research on their subjects. If you enjoy reading biographies or historical fiction, these titles interest you. Each book provides insight into life in the South of France. Discover the fascinating characters who chose to live in the region and their impact on Provence.

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Elizabeth David: A Mediterranean Passion by Lisa Chaney is an entertaining biography that charts an adventurous life. Born into privilege, David abandoned England for a yacht and a rackety lover, with whom she escaped from the South of France in World War II via a Greek island and Egypt, where she worked at the Ministry of Information and socialized with an artistic and literary set that included Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Olivia Manning.

Chanel’s Riviera: Glamour, Decadence, and Survival in Peace and War, 1930-1944, by Anne de Courcy, is a true-life account of Coco Chanel’s life on the French Riviera between 1930 and 1944. The book is divided into two parts: the first depicts the lives and loves of the rich and famous who visited or lived in Cannes, Nice, and Antibes during those years, while the second describes how the Second World War affected their lives and transformed France and the French Riviera forever.

Mary-Jane Deeb writes in her book review one of the best books I have come across that brings together the sensory and the imaginary, the permanent and the transient Philippe Collas and Eric Villedary write the one entitled Edith Wharton’s French Riviera. The book is a richly illustrated history of the French Riviera, created first by the British and later, after World War I, by the Americans.

Maureen Emerson and her husband spent in the South of France for 22 years. Although, that had not been their original plan. During her years in Provence, Maureen became enthralled with the stories of those expatriates who lived on the Riviera in the 1920s and 1930s and how the Second World War affected their lives. Maureen has published two books on influential residents of the French Riviera during that era.

Her first book, Escape to Provence, published in 2008, is the true story of Lady Winifred Fortescue (author) and Elisabeth Parrish Star (Great War heroine). The book is available in Kindle format here.

Riviera Dreaming, Love and War on the Côte d’Azur, published in 2018, is the biography of American architect Barry Dierks. A name you have probably never heard of despite the vast body of residential design work he completed on the Riviera. Buy your copy of Riviera Dreaming on Amazon here in hardcopy or Kindle.

Mary S. Lovell was a Project Accountant before 1986 when she made a career shift and began writing full-time. Her latest book is The Riviera Set: Glitz, Glamour, and the Hidden World of High Society. A biography about the rich or famous who spent time on the French Riviera from the 1920s to 1960. Many of these people gathered at the art deco home of Maxine Elliot (nee Jessica Dermot) Château de l’Horizon near Cannes. The book is an excellent read for anyone who likes history and learning about the lives (not rumours) of the famous names of the era.

The Essence of Provence: the Story of L’Occitane, by Pierre Magnan, translated from the original French L’Occitane: une histoire vraie, Denoël, Paris, France, 2001, by Richard Seaver, Arcade Publishing, New York, 2nd edition, 2012.

This book is a poetic tribute to Olivier Baussan, the founder of L’Occitane, the famous cosmetics company that was among the first to use only natural ingredients in its products. The story of the meteoric rise of Olivier Baussan as he created, out of little else but an idea and the goodwill of friends, products that became a worldwide success is nothing short of miraculous. It is also the story of people believing in Olivier and helping him achieve his dreams, as he helped others achieve theirs.

Books about Provencal Artists

Starry Night: Van Gogh at the Asylum by Martin Baily

Van Gogh’s Ear – The True Story by Bernadette Murphy

The Letters of Vincent van Gogh was edited by Ronald de Leeuw, the director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.