Paradise for painters at world’s end
Thursday, 05 July 2012
JOHN TREW discovers that there’s more than art to delight visitors to Finistère in PART ONE of a series on Brittany which will highlight the celebrated Pont-Aven art colony in the next issue...
FRANCE has been the world’s strongest magnet for international artists since the 1800s; no aspiring painters can claim to have completed their apprenticeships unless they have spilled their visions onto canvas in a Parisian attic, a yellow house in Provence or a little Breton hotel.
Irish and British artists have been particularly drawn (no pun intended) to Finistère,the most westerly peninsula of Brittany which is today familiar on radio here for mentions on the Coastal Weather Forecast. In Breton, Finistère means ‘World’s End’. In the south-west of this départment, the region known as Cornouille has become extremely popular with artists and art-lovers because it condenses the essence of Brittany into an area that can be easily explored in a holiday week or two.
Regular readers of TREW’S TRAVELS know I am a keen amateur artist and a very amateurish art historian, so when I passed through this enchanting département last year en route to the conveniently-located Irish Ferries destination port of Roscoff, I swore I would return – with my pencils and paints. Never before had I seen so many galleries, museums of fine art, studios with painting courses and art-themed café-bars packed into the bustling streets of so many towns and villages, from Douarnenez, Quimper and Pont l’Abbe to Concarneau, Le Pouldu and Pont-Aven. Never had I seen so many picturesque subjects to sketch and photograph around every corner. Paradise for painters, indeed!
So that’s why I found myself a few weeks ago in Place Gauguin -- the main square of Pont-Aven -- with my arms around the statue of Paul Gauguin, the famous Parisian artist who became the inspirational leader of Brittany’s art colonies in the late 1880s – long before he went to the South Seas. He met Irish painter Roderic O’Conor in 1894 and they became friends. O’Conor is still the best known – and his works the most valuable -- of the Irish artists who felt strong Celtic ties to Brittany, but he was by no means the first.
In 1880 Helen Mabel Trevor from Co. Down was struck by the similarities in folklore; by the beginning of the 20th Century her feelings were echoed by other Irish artists like Thomas Hovenden, Elizabeth Butler, Aloysius O’Kelly, Augustus Burke, John Greene, William Leech, May Guinness, Portadown painter Charles Lamb and Belfast School of Art’s Samuel Taylor. Belfast’s greatest painter, Sir John Lavery met his future wife Hazel in Concarneau around 1904.
To read the rest of John Trews's feature on his trip to Finistere and see all the pictures, pick up a copy of Northern Ireland Travel News...
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