With Gauguin in Brittany

A visit to Pont Aven and Le Pouldu

With Gauguin in Brittany
12th October 2009 Jane Tomlinson

This year has been a bit of a Paul Gauguin year for me really. Not only did I finally get my hands on a copy of a brilliantly funny and informative DVD by Waldemar Januszczak called Gauguin: The Full Story but we also visited Gauguin’s grave in French Polynesia. So when we got the chance to go to Brittany for two weeks it was obvious that I must check out some of the places in Brittany where the mad bastard lived and worked.

Pont Aven

Gauguin’s life seems to have been one of restless travel, always searching for something, always on the move. Whenever he returned to France, his preferred home seems to have been Brittany, which in the 19th century must have felt like a long, long way from anywhere, a remote and wild peninsula of rugged beauty, sparsely populated, where they even spoke a different language. They still do. Just right for Gauguin. He went to Pont-Aven, on the south coast.

Pont-Aven is a delightful small town nestling in a deep river valley near the coast. It’s still delightful today so inevitably full of tourists. In Gauguin’s day it was quieter. People made their living fishing and farming. In 1886 he lived at the Pension Gloanec right in the centre of the village.

Together, with Gauguin as their leader, they founded the Pont-Aven ‘school’ which used strong flat colours and symbolism to create a new visual ‘language’ which later would have a profound influence on some of the giants of 20th century art who came after them, including Picasso.

The Pension Gloanec is now a newsagent selling books, postcards, maps and of course, art materials. There’s a statue of arguably Pont-Aven’s most famous son in the middle of the town square:

There’s a lovely small museum in the village which has original paintings by some of the artists who worked here, including Gauguin. In 1890 as Pont-Aven became busier, he went to live and work for a few months in Le Pouldu, about 10 miles from Pont-Aven.

Le Pouldu

Here, he lived in the Buvette de la Plage, which is now a museum, ‘La Maison du Marie Henry’ named after the woman who ran the place.

There’s now a plaque on the wall of the Pension which lists all the artists who lived there with him.

The interior has been reconstructed to how it was in Gauguin’s day.
Gauguin and his artist friend the Dutchman Meijer de Haan who also lived in here spent the winter months redecorating the dining room. They portrayed themselves on the doors on either side of the back wall of the dining room:

Here’s the side wall:

The original paintings, glass and panels have been removed, but faithful reproductions are very effective. Here’s what they did on the glass in the window:

Cheerful, eh?