The painters at Pont Aven!

I like to take you on a foggy day as I write in my Brittany to a famous place, and a picturesque beautiful place we like a lot. This is in next door neighbor Finistére dept 29 and the city very much along the history of painters in France. For a little town, I think it has more punch than even Paris on an even scale. This is of course, Pont Aven. It is only 66 km from my house or about 41 miles.

Pont-Aven is dubbed “the city of Painters” as many painters including Gauguin have stayed there. And so beautiful a must to visit near me ::) On the N165 expressway!

The town of Pont-Aven is close to the Atlantic coast, bordered on the east by the Aven river. The small town of Pont-Aven is located at the edge of this river, where it widens into an estuary that forms an ria, where the last bridge before the sea is located on this coastal river. They are at the origin of the saying: “Pont-Aven, renowned city, 14 mills, 15 houses” of the Breton Aven which means river, river of Pont-Aven, in Breton Pont-Aën and one of the sources is located near the village of Pen-Aven

pont aven

Pont-Aven, came from the dismemberment of the parish of the primitive armory of Melgven. Pont-Aven, which depended on the bishopric of Cornouaille, was a simple truce of Nizon until the French revolution, part of its territory depending on the parish of Riec-sur-Belon. This town is quoted on the occasion of the revolt of the Bonnet Rouges (Red Caps,against the taxes demanded by the King) which occurred in Brittany in 1675. In 1844, Pont-Aven is described as a “seaside village, picturesquely situated on a sea side, with a port where ships abound from 50 to 70 tons.” In the second half of the 19C Pont-Aven welcomed its first tourists.

From 1830 at least, artists represented Pont-Aven as shown by paintings and lithographs of the time, but facilitated by the opening of the railway line to Quimper in 1863, the true discovery of Pont-Aven by the artistic world date from 1864: In July of that year, a young American painter, Henry Bacon travels diligently between Concarneau and Quimperlé where he travels to take the train and the stagecoach stops at Pont-Aven which he discovers by chance. He is seduced by this village. Anyone would even today!

Henry Bacon, back in Paris, talks to his artist friends, including Robert Wylie, who arrives at Pont-Aven in 1865 (he stayed there until 1876), quickly joined by other young American artists from Philadelphia such as Charles Way, Earl Shinn, Howard Roberts, Benjamin Champney, Frederick Arthur Bridgman, Moses Wright, and English painters such as Lewis and Carraway. Jean-Léon Gérôme, who teaches at the Paris School of Fine Arts, encourages his students to go to Pont-Aven in the summer and many young painters follow his advice in the following fifteen years; among them were Frenchmen such as William Bouguereau, Louis-Nicolas Cabat, Léon Germain Pelouse, Sébastien Charles Giraud, Paul Sébillot, Maxime Lalanne, etc., but also foreigners such as the Dutchman Herman van den Anker, the Irish Auguste Nicolas Burke, the Canadian Paul Peel, etc. All these artists are attracted by the beauty of the surrounding countryside and the low cost of living. They stayed at the hotel des Voyageurs, held from 1871 by Julia Guillou, the Hotel du Lion d’Or, at the pension Gloanec, or even at the Manoir de Lezaven.  By the summer of 1866, a dozen artists, most American or English, were present at Pont-Aven, including Henry Mosler, William Lamb Picknell, Thomas Alexander Harrison, Clement Nye Swift, and Frederick Arthur Bridgman.

Around 1880, a second wave of artists frequented Pont-Aven, which became the “new Barbizon”, there are some forty English or American landscapers, or painters from northern Europe such as the Danes Marie Luplau and Emilie Mundt, the Finns Amélie Lundhal and Helene Schjerfbeck, etc. as well as French painters such as Alexandre Dephony, Marius Gourdault from 1879, Gabriel-Charles Deney, etc.

The arrival in this “little cheap hole”(Pont Aven), on the advice of Jobbé-Duval, during the summer 1886 of Paul Gauguin, who resided at the pension Gloanec, then of Émile Bernard . Émile Bernard then painted “Bretons in the Green Meadow”, a painting that lays the groundwork for the synthetism that Gauguin explores in his turn the same year in the vision after the Sermon (Jacob’s struggle with the Angel). The name “Synthetism” was later given by Armand Jobbé-Duval who became leader of this artistic current which was to be called later the school of Pont-Aven, in which a whole colony of artists-painters such as Paul Sérusier (to whom Paul Gauguin gives in September 1888 the famous lesson of painting known as the Wood of love which is also the origin of the group of Nabis), Charles Filiger (who resides in Pouldu), Émile Schuffenecker, Meyer de Haan, Charles Laval, Rodel O’Conor, Robert Bevan, Armand Seguin, Wladyslaw Ślewiński, Jan Verkade, Mogens Ballin, Henri Delavallée, Ernest Ponthier de Chamaillard, Émile Jourdan, Gustave Love, Maxime Maufra, Jens Ferdinand Willumsen, Flavien-Louis Parkes, etc.  After a stay in Arles, Paul Gauguin returned in April 1889 to Pont-Aven staying at the Manoir de Lezaven where he painted notably “The Yellow Christ, the Green Christ” and “the Beautiful Angèl”, before going to stay from the summer of 1889 at the Auberge de Marie Henry at Pouldu where he  was joined by Paul Sérusier, Meyer de Haan, and then in 1890 by Wladyslaw Ślewiński, Henry Moret, Maxime Maufra and Émile Dezaunay.  After a stay in Tahiti between April 1891 and August 1892, Paul Gauguin returned to France and returned to Pont-Aven in April 1894, staying again at the pension Gloanec, accompanied by his companion Annah the Javanese, alongside Alfred Jarry, but he left definitively France in July 1895 for the Marquesas Islands.

A third wave of artists frequent Pont-Aven in the Belle Epoque and the Inter-war: Among them, Adolphe Beaufrére, Jean Émile Labourer, Henri Hayden, Nicolas Tarkhoff, Pierre-Eugène Clairin, Charles Wislin, Ernest Correlleau, Maurice Asselin, Fernand Danner, Maurice-Marie-Léonce Savin, Léon Germain Pelouse, Geoffrey Nelson, Andre Even, Mary Piriou, etc. Several of them (Pierre-Eugène Clairin, Ernest Corelleau, Maurice Asselin, Pierre Vaillant, Fernand Danner) worked in the same workshop at the Manoir de Lezaven. Foreign painters as well as the Australian Mortimer Menpes stayed a while at Pont-Aven at that time.

And some history on the lodgings of Pont Aven:

Julia Guillou  nicknamed “Mademoiselle Julia ” buys in 1873 the Hotel des Voyageurs, located on the Grand Place, which belonged to the Feutray family, and where she had been working since 1870 as a hotel mistress. Since 1865, this hotel welcomed American artists such as Clément Swift. Renamed Hotel Julia, many painters stayed there later as Robert Wylie, Thomas Alexander Harrison, etc. Its success is such that in 1881 Julia was able to build an annex, the Villa Julia (which now houses the Museum of Fine Arts of Pont-Aven). The less fortunate artists settled at the Pension Gloanec, located near the bridge over the Aven river  and built in the 1860’s and frequented by painters who lead a free life of artists without worrying about conventions. The Hotel du Lion d’Or, which belonged to the Linthillac family, was also frequented; It was replaced in 1892 by the hotel Gloanec built by Marie-Jeanne Gloanec nicknamed “La Mère Gloanec”(mother Gloanec) in the same location. La Mére Gloanec  welcomes Gauguin again. In 1904 Mademoiselle Julia  opened in Port Manec’h an establishment with breathtaking sea views on the mouths of the Aven and Belon rivers. The third celebrity was Angélique Marie Satre nicknamed “La Belle Angèle ” which was immortalized in her Inn by Paul Gauguin in 1889. The portrait currently sits at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris marked in capital letters on the canvas  “La BELLE ANGÈLE “.

The Monument to the Fallen of Pont-Aven, built in 1921 bears the names of 101 soldiers killed for France during  WWI.

In 1920, Julia Corelleau, née Louédec, opened the Hotel de la Poste and hosted numerous painters during the Inter-war period  like Paul Sérusier, Maurice de Vlaminck, Émile Bernard, Maurice Asselin, Pierre-Eugène Clairin, Pierre Vaillant, etc. and writers such as Pierre Mac Orlan, André Salmon, Roland Dorgelès, Paul Fort, Xavier Grall, Georges Perros, Max Jacob, etc.. Her husband Ernest Corelleau  was also a painter who acquired a certain notoriety.

The Monument to the Fallen of Pont-Aven bears the names of 29 people who died for France during WWII. Daniel Lomenech, a Breton native of Pont-Aven, engaged in the Free French naval Forces. He made about 30 trips with the boat N 51 on behalf of the English Secret Service, collaborating notably with Commander David Birkin, the father of Jane Birkin.

Nowadays, the town of Pont Aven is mostly tourism. In summer, when the tourist season is in full swing, many shopping malls open their doors. The painters exhibited their works there.

Things to see

Le Musée des beaux-arts  or Pont-Aven Museum of Fine Arts ( a very must to see) has been open since 1985. He has led a major acquisitions campaign from the outset and currently has a fund of 4 500 pieces, ranging from Pont-Aven School to contemporary art. It has been renovated to occupy  2 000 m2, spread over 7 floors. If anything here is the painters and this museum is a must;and the walk around the town, just magical with so much history and picturesque architecture all around you, magical. The museum official site is here: Fine Arts Museum of Pont Aven

pont aven

pont aven

The Church of St. Joseph was rebuilt in the late 19C in a neo-Gothic style. In the city center you can admire some old houses at rue des Meuniéres or place Delavallée. The oldest dates from the 15C. The Moulin du Grand Poulguin (transformed into a restaurant), the Moulin de Rosmadec (renowned gourmet restaurant), the Moulin David (painted by Gauguin) are all very nice to see and eat in ! Let’s add the flour mill le Dérout, still operating and testifying of the past Millers of the city. On the hillsides, above the harbor, you can admire villas dating from the late 19C and early 20C.At the right bank, on the hillside of Keremperchec, mention the farm of the same name, a beautiful set of 18C cottages recently restored (presence of a monumental well dated 1788), inaccessible to the public. Left bank, on the hillside of Saint-Guénolé, you can admire the two villas of the singer Theodore Botrel, built successively (Castel-Brizeux and Kerbotrel). The Manoir de Lezaven, privately owned, has long been popular with artists, some have been housed there. It belonged to Étienne Manac’h, Ambassador of France in China from 1969 to 1975.

pont aven

pont aven

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And for a nice souvenir biscuits and gift giving typical of this town go to the Traou Mad here: Traou Mad biscuits of Pont Aven

pont aven

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Some webpages to help you plan your trip here in addition to my previous posts are

City of Pont Aven on painters

City of Pont Aven on the fine arts museum

Tourist office of Finistére on Pont Aven

Tourist office of Brittany on Pont Aven

Again a nice little town of Pont Aven very picturesques and architecturally nice with lots of good food and great walks along the Aven river. We love it!

And remember, happy travels , good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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