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Brittany’s Best Artists

Internationally renowned artists such as Gauguin, Picasso, Renoir, Monet and Chagall all drew inspiration from the tempered light, rich colours and distinctive landscapes of Brittany. So too, countless Breton painters whose work drew additional vitality from the region’s unique cultural heritage. This post looks at a few of these Breton artists whose accomplished work deserves serious consideration in any discussion of the art of Brittany.

From the central town of Rostrenen, Olivier Perrin (1761-1832) was perhaps the first artist to produce quality, objective drawings of everyday peasant life in Brittany. A noted painter, much of his work was engraved and published posthumously between 1835-39, providing subjects and motifs that were subsequently explored by other artists.

Olivier Perrin in Brittany - Artists
Olivier Perrin : The Fair at Quimper (1821)

The landscape artist from Nantes, Prosper Barbot (1798-1877), is now perhaps better known for his romantic images of Italy and North Africa but he painted this atmospheric masterpiece on home soil before heading to sunnier climes.  

Prosper Barbot in Brittany - Artists
Prosper Barbot : The Breton Calvary (1829)

Victor Roussin (1812-1903) from Quimper, spent most of his working life as a lawyer and public administrator but was clearly a talented artist, first exhibiting at the Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, in Paris in 1838. He specialised in Breton landscapes and scenes of popular life in the province. He was also one of the founding members of the influential Archaeological Society of Finistere.

Victor Roussin : The wedding of Corentin Le Guerveur and Anne-Marie Kerinvel - Artists Brittany
Victor Roussin : The wedding of Corentin Le Guerveur and Anne-Marie Kerinvel (1880)

Jean-Édouard Dargent (1824-1899), also known as Yan’ Dargent, was born in Saint-Servais; a skilled and prodigious book illustrator whose oil paintings, whether created from imagination or reality, deliver a strong visual impact. He also painted frescos in many Breton churches that can still be viewed today. Before his death he had asked to be buried in the town of his birth and that his skull be placed in the ossuary alongside those of his mother and grandparents. By law, disinterment could only take place five years after burial and in October 1907, with full ecclesiastical approval, his body was exhumed. However, the body was not sufficiently decomposed and the supervising abbot had to cut the head off himself; leading to an unseemly legal dispute with Dargent’s surviving relatives.

Yan Dargent in Brittany - Artists
Yan’ Dargent : Saint Houardon (1859)

Jules-Élie Delaunay (1828-1891), from Nantes, was an influential painter appreciated for his portrait work and classical scenes but is today best known for his grand murals, such as those that adorn the walls at the Paris Opera house, the staircase of Paris City Hall and the nave of the Panthéon. Despite working on it for fifteen years, this latter commission remained unfinished at his death.

Élie Delaunay : The Plague in Rome - Artists - Brittany
Jules-Élie Delaunay : The Plague in Rome (1859)

Another native of Nantes, Jacques Tissot (1836-1902), better known as James Tissot, stayed with Dalauney, a family friend, while attending the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1857. Having established a reputation as a painter of medieval themes, he transitioned easily to depicting Parisian high society and continued on this vein after relocating to London in 1871 where his work was in high demand, commanding commensurately high prices.

James Tissot : Captain Frederick Burnaby - Artists - Brittany
James Tissot : Captain Frederick Burnaby (1870)

Tissot declined his friend Degas’ invitation to join what became known as the first Impressionist Exhibition but his refusal did not affect his close friendships with such luminaries of the movement as Berthe Morisot and Édouard Manet. In terms of style, colour and light, Tissot’s London work is perhaps a closer fit to that of the Pre-Raphaelites. Tissot returned to Paris after the death of his lover in 1882 and shortly thereafter experienced a strong resurgence of his Christian faith, which seems to have led him to spend the rest of his life focused on painting biblical scenes.

James Tissot : The Traveller - Artists - Brittany
James Tissot : The Traveller (1885)

Alexandre Le Bihan (1839-1924) was born in Langonnet, central Brittany, and despite exhibiting regularly at the Salon between 1869 and 1900 is now not particularly well remembered. He lived for a time in Paris but spent almost his entire professional life in Brittany where he was known for his genre scenes and landscapes and was, for a time, Curator of the Lorient Museum.

Alexandre Le Bihan : Pilgrimage in Brittany - Artists - Brittany
Alexandre Le Bihan : Pilgrimage in Brittany (1880)

A native of Lorient, the self-taught Theodore Roussel (1847–1926) was another Breton artist who cemented his artistic reputation in London having only taken-up painting when his military service concluded in 1872. His earliest works were scenes of daily life but his permanent move to London in 1878 ignited a life-long passion for printmaking and etching. Primarily known as a landscape painter, his entry for one of the first exhibitions held by the New English Art Club (an alternative to the Royal Academy established in 1885 by young British artists who had studied in Paris) created quite a sensation at the time.

Theodore Roussel : The Reading Girl - Artists - Brittany
Theodore Roussel : The Reading Girl (1886)

Maxime Maufra (1861-1918) is another painter who committed himself to his art later than some of his contemporaries although this Nantes-based businessman exhibited, as a hobbyist, at the Salon of 1886. Perhaps it was this success that convinced him to turn his back on commerce and fully embrace his art a few years later in 1890 when he moved to Paris and became the first artist to take up residence in the then unknown Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre. He returned regularly to Brittany where he painted extensively along the southern coast and was particularly accomplished at landscapes and seascapes.

Maxime Maufra : Moonrise at Dusk, Quiberon - Artists - Brittany
Maxime Maufra : Moonrise at Dusk, Quiberon (1907)

Born in Châteaugiron in the east of Brittany, Jules Ronsin (1867-1937) was a widely exhibited artist who spent most of his working life in and around the city of Rennes.

Jules Ronsin : Young Woman of Brittany - Artists - Brittany
Jules Ronsin : Young Woman of Brittany (1910)

Edgar Maxence (1871-1954) studied under another native of Nantes, Jules-Élie Delaunay, at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His work mostly focused on medieval and mythical subject matter; his talent allowing him to create convincingly rich costumes and headgear. The header image of this post is his 1906 painting The Breton Legend; a wonderful juxtaposition of the stolidly Catholic and magical pre-Christian Brittany.

Edgar Maxence : The Soul of the Forest - Artists - Brittany
Edgar Maxence : The Soul of the Forest (1898)

Mathurin Méheut (1882-1958) was a prolific artist from Lamballe who was not only an accomplished painter but also a skilled engraver, sculptor, illustrator and designer; he even collaborated with the renowned Henriot pottery in Quimper as a decorator. His work is highly praised for its striking and authentic depiction of daily life in Brittany in the first half of the 20th century.

Mathurin Meheut - Artists - Brittany
Mathurin Mehuet : Seaweed Gatherers on their Drômes (1957)

A wonderful example of how artistic influences inter-weave can be seen with Jeanne Malivel (1895-1926) from Loudeac. Malivel was one of the founders of Seiz Breur (the Seven Brothers), a movement that revolutionised Breton arts and crafts between the two World Wars. Multi-talented, she was a skilled designer of furniture, upholstery and ceramics but is perhaps best known for her skills as a woodcut engraver and illustrator where she took inspiration from Celtic art and the synthetism of Gauguin, who himself had been influenced by the naïve style of English illustrator Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886) whose drawings in an 1880 guidebook to Brittany were well regarded by the artists of Pont-Aven.

Jeanne Malivel - Artists - Brittany
Jeanne Malivel : The Union of Brittany with France (1922)

Another member of the Seiz Breur movement was Pierre Péron (1905-1988) from the west coast city of Brest. Like Méheut he is hard to categorise being an accomplished painter as well as cartoonist, engraver, designer and author.

Pierre Péron : Entrance to the Penfeld seen from the Great Bridge, Brest - Artists - Brittany
Pierre Péron : Entrance to the Penfeld seen from the Great Bridge, Brest (1930)

Simone Le Moigne (1911-2001), from Magoar in central Brittany, did not seriously start painting until she was almost sixty years old but left a legacy of several hundred naïve, tender paintings that shine a light on life and rural society in central Brittany between the World Wars; a rural lifestyle that was rapidly disappearing when she began to paint in the 1960s.

Le Moigne - Artists - Brittany
Simone Le Moigne : The Weddings of Yesteryear (1986)

I fully appreciate that the word ‘best’ used in the title of this post is highly subjective, as is the term ‘popular’ and perhaps this post should really have been called: ‘My Favourite Breton Artists’. If I have failed to include a favourite of yours please let me know and I will be happy to add them here!

For over two centuries, Brittany has been a great source of inspiration for artists from across the world drawn to the beauty of its landscapes and unique quality of light. Today, it remains one of the regions of France most visited by painters and art lovers keen to explore the same magical sights that have inspired so many.


Published by Bon Repos Gites

Enjoying life in Kalon Breizh - the Heart of Brittany.

184 thoughts on “Brittany’s Best Artists

  1. Few writers know the history, culture and art of Britain like you. It is very enjoyable and uplifting to read your blog and look at your well-chosen illustrations and images. Soon I will write about you in Spanish. Congratulations

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I’ve enjoyed learning about the many artists of Brittany! For being a self-taught artist, I think it’s impressive how Theodore Roussel made “The Reading Girl” lifelike!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you! I am pleased that you enjoyed this little tour! 🙂 I agree, to me, as a non artist, the idea that someone could teach themselves to paint a painting of that quality almost defies belief! Such talent!!

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Whether they’re the best or “just” your favourites – thank you for the wonderful overview. I mostly look for modern painters, it is nice to see the tradition they come from.
    I am obsessed with Râmine, a painter from Brest, and his lighthouses. I discovered his paintings in the breakfast room of our favourite hotel in Brittany years ago. 😉 I have a couple of his books, can’t afford the originals…
    And I love watercolour paintings of landscapes and birds. There’s a series of books about the coast of Brittany (can’t remember the painter of the top of my head) illustrated with lovely little scenes. I enjoy visiting bookstores when in France and looking for books by local artists.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. You are very welcome! I am glad that you liked them and appreciate you having taken the time to look at these! 🙂
      I know the artist you mean!! I think he used to have a gallery between the cathederal and the Penfeld? You are right! There are some very good active painters in Brittany today!! There is another who works mostly in black and white and does engravings that are somehow modern yet old-fashioned. He is from Morlaix and as soon as I remember his name, I will drop it here for you to check-out! 😉

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Thank you for this post on the historical painters of Britany, the history of Britany is full of a lot of life and this post is no different, like all of your other posts. They are a good read and carefully presented. These painters were wonderful in content and style. Thanks again for sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 5 people

  5. I had no idea that so many talented artists came from Brittany – fascinating. I particularly like the work of Simone Le Moigne. I’ve always been drawn to the naïve style of painting. Perhaps it’s because she started painting when aged sixty! As always, I have extended my knowledge of Brittany through your detailed and informative post. Thank you!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. It is a respectable showing, isn’t it? I am pleased you enjoyed this selection! 🙂 Of course, most had to leave the area to find their fame but some managed to find success in the region. Le Moigne is interesting as she seems to be getting more interest nowadays than she ever did before her death. 🤔

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Saint Houardon and the Traveler! I have never seen these! Fantastic works!!! But uh… being beheaded after being dead for 5 years- was a thing. I’m always surprised by how much and how wild humans can get, like you want your head removed to be placed with humans. That’s wild lol I had no idea… don’t mind me!!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. They are both quite striking in their own ways aren’t they? 🙂
      Ha, yes, being disinterred and the bones being moved to an ossuary survived here as a custom long after it had died out in the rest of France. In some parts of Brittany, the skulls were placed into decorative Skull Boxes painted by loved ones.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’m not saying it’s not cool 😎 cause that’s pretty rad and crazy all at once! Now that I know I can have my skull painted and possibly bedazzled… 🫠🤔😏 now I wonder if I can… and the rest cremated. I don’t want to be buried lol

        Enjoyed the read as always! Thanks for sharing all this information with me 💚

        Liked by 2 people

    1. It is my pleasure to share these with you and I am so happy that you liked them too! I realise that art is very subjective but I do think that there is something for everyone here, well, apart from André Breton’s surrealists! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This article is a wonderful treat for art lovers like me! I particularly like the seascape by Maxime Maufra and the wonderful naive painting by Simone Le Moigne. What a joy it h as been to take part of an afternoon luxuriating in your lovely article! Take care!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That is such a lovely thought and I am very pleased that you lost your imagination in the art even if briefly! 🙂 🙂 Thank you for taking a look and I am so happy that you liked them so! Enjoy your weekend! 🙂


  8. A wonderful selection you have given us. I am not trained in art, so I like what pleases my eyes. I love the colours and small details in that last painting but I also love the use of light and colour in all those other pictures. I have always had my walls festooned with a wide variety of photographs and paintings. These are lovely. Thank you.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I cannot draw at all, so, like you, I am guided by what I like rather than how competent technically an artists is. To me, there is something, some quality, in the works of each of these! 😉 I do envy their talent! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Excellent work by these artists. I had never heard of many of them before with the exception of James Tissot. My dad’s godmother (who originally came from Normandy to Canada) had got herself a Douay-Rheims English language Bible when she arrived. But this Bible had Biblical scenes painted by Tissot in it. My dad got that Bible from her in her will when she died.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. So many talented people. Thanks for a look at them. I have been fortunate over the years to see the work of some of these artists in museums and galleries in France and elsewhere. Have a great Sunday. Allan

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Many thanks Allan! I am very pleased that you liked them! Yes, thankfully, many of these people are represented in quality museums today and original examples of many of their paintings can still be found for under 4,000USD 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Good morning dear friend. And I also thank you making me so glad to read such marvellous scripts full of spirit and genius! I am almost alright, my husband’s chemo’s doing fine and he’s doing just fine like a hero as always and things are pretty good for him, as for me, lots of work and translations, it’s very cold outside now but the only bad news are from my son’s side who’s getting a divorce after 18 years of mariage, he doesn’t want it, she does, with 3 kids, well, none deserves to be loved by force, right. When you truly love someone you got to let him free even she’s not with you; well, she’s free to live her life, let it be let it be. He’s young, 42 only, he’s going to build his life again, he has nothing to lose after all, the only victims are the kids, always. My best regards.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Hello! 🙂 I am very pleased to hear the great news about your husband!! This is very encouraging and I hope this good progress continues! 🙏 I am however, sorry to hear abour your son!! 18 years is a long time but, as you said, sometimes we have to put the past behind us and go forward! You are right, it is always the children that suffer and I hope that they will not in this case! 🙏🙏

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you, Colin, thank you so much indeed. Your words make me feel good and may all friends of this world, even distant ones like you, could be so sincere and heartfeld like you, and I know, I can feel the sincerity and empathy of your words. The kids are truly suffering long time ago by seeing them quarelling bad in front of them and the fact that they’ll see their parents living apart as well as moving out from this house we’re living together, different floor each, but still together, will be the worse. I won’t see them every day whey they’ll move out in a couple of months. This is a difficult case. If we had the proper time and place to talk about this, you’d figure out how gentle and kind, heroic and loving person my son is. But once love is only in the one person from both, then it’s doesn’t worth to live together anymore. She’s been ungrateful over my son, she has everything she ever needed but she only needs her freedom to live on her own, to live her life, because she was 16 when she was married, but it was her choice, nobody forced her. She was loving him, and now she doesn’t and without any particular reason at all! Just like that, because she doesn’t have any love feelings anymore and without been hurt or harmed by my son. I knew it from the beggining that she wasn’t the good one for him, but at that time, 18 years ago, my son didn’t listen to me, he was 25 and deeply in love.. Anyway, this is the end. Life is going on, and he will love and be loved again. The kids are simply going to be hurt by seeing them live in different houses very soon, that’s the worse a mother could do against her own children. She will feel sorry one day but it’s going to be very late then. My best regards.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. You are very welcome!! Any familial break-up is hard and when it is one involving your own child and grandchildren, well, that makes it all the harder 😦 I wish you all the love, strength and grace to work through this difficult time 🙏🙏🤞

        Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re very welcome, I even pressed the image on my phone and looked at them landscape to appreciate each piece in their detail. Thanks again! 👍🏻

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Sadly my friend, you are right…. Although I prefer to look at it like wine…. Aging to perfection. Until something hurts that didn’t used to. 😉

        Liked by 2 people

  12. Quite amazing. I must confess I’d never heard of any of them. Though I like the wedding in 1880. Not sure my ancestors, being Gallo, still dressed like that in 1880, but earlier, quite possibly.
    You should get a subsidy from the Région Bretagne… On the Culture budget…
    Kenavo et tout ça.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am very pleased that you liked them! One of the real treats for me here is that the ‘local’ museums display such great art and if they do not have exhibition space then the paintings go on to another museum. Kenavo! 🤗

      Liked by 2 people

  13. I love all the different styles, uber realism to impressionistic. I’m always fascinated with a lawyer is actually a great painter, or a doctor becomes a writer. I always envision those types of people being more left brained than right, lol. Ultimately, though, I wonder if my husband would be put off if my final wishes were to have my body near my parents but my skull placed elsewhere? Hmm…. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am very pleased that you enjoyed these as much as I! 🙂 Yes, it is funny how we enjoy the familiarity of labels isnt it? It was courageous for the professional folk to ditch lucrative careers for the life of an artist yet I can also appreciate those who kept it as a hobby but who sadly did not live to see us talking about then all these years later!
      Ha, yes that was an odd request wasn’t it? He was, by all accounts, a complicated man and a Surveyor by trade. Apparently, he refused to acknowledge his son until his lover had died when the lad was 13. It was this son that gave the priest the go-head to sever the head from the body which set in motion a legal dispute with his father’s wife. He was cleared of any wrongdoing but died just a few days after the verdict was delivered. Families eh?? 🙄🙄

      Liked by 2 people

  14. As always, I find new fascination in each post you make about the heritage of this engaging area, Brittany!. I found the examples of art so fascinating, so diverse and with interesting stories behind some of these amazing artists. My favorites that you showed here are :

    Yan’ Dargent : Saint Houardon

    Jacques Tissot high society painting

    Mathurin Mehuet : Seaweed Gatherers on their Drômes

    Each painting so very different from the others, but I sense in each a highly defined creative spirit, besides the excellent technique!! Thank you for sharing the artists of Brittany with us all:):) 🌹

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am happy that you liked these and appreciate you taking the time to look! Thank you! 🙂
      Double checking facts is the most time consuming part of writing for me! Often, I can remember something but not its exact source and then I have to chase down the source while trying to avoid going down too many rabbit holes! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  15. Such a beautiful post Colin. I’m enchanted by these wonderful works art and their creators . I would love to browse the many museum that hold these masterpieces. Thank you for the virtual tour.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed!! I love the richness of his colours and the opulence of the dresses he paints! I was tempted to include one of his many paintings of ladies relaxing on a boat but thought that his painting of that Army officer deserved inclusion as it showcased his ability to capture a moment in time very nicely! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

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