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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. Sometimes we get odd requests in a preneed (pre-death- arrangements)

    I had one once that died like 20 years prior and wanted us to exhume, remove from casket, use the IRON casket for the viewing of wife who had just passed and then bury them together

    Legally in this day and age we can not fulfill some requests due to legality & current laws

    Even with cremation – you can’t burn money, drugs, the American flag – etc – we have rules

    I once had a dad die and he would always tell his daughter – make sure I have a pocket full of money before they bury me… so she wrote him a really large check and shoved that in his pocket lol … totally loved her thinking ❤️👏

    Made me think of that with Dargent

    I would take my time painting in those places too – I’m sure was beautiful to be in and quite the honor – obviously he loved being there and doing that ❤️

    Funny how people have so many body hang ups – the human form in art is beautiful – if people can be adult

    The art from France and Italy is spectacular ❤️

    There is a peace to painting along with a view point.

    But is relaxing and destressing for someone to express themselves and to have others enjoy it is even more ❤️

    When you have cancer they tell you stop life but get a hobby – painting is a good one – you can let your emotions out on canvas ❤️✌️

    As a child I used to love watching Bob Ross lol … I would beg my parents for paints and paper so I could attempt to follow him lol

    They did get for me … and I tried lol … but that was back before the pause button so he went too fast lol

    But I loved art – took art in high school and love still paintings – I can not do people without them looking weird lol 🤷‍♀️😄

    Liked by 1 person

    1. An iron casked from such recent times? Wow! I always imagine such things to be from the Middle Ages or in the pages of a gothic horror!

      I love that daughter’s thinking!!! She is exactly the type of person that we need running things! Honoured her father’s wishes by being amazingly creative during a time of massive stress!

      I would love to be able to paint, even poorly! Alas, I am useless at it but I can and do enjoy seeing the work of others! Some folks are just so talented!! 😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We can get you whatever kind of casket or coffin or whatever you want – they have some pretty incredible caskets 😮😮😮

        From the very plain to very elaborate

        Hahaha I know!! I totally loved the check thing – brilliant ❤️👏

        I am good in areas of art – so are my children … my oldest can do people … I can not do people without them looking very alien lol 👽 lol

        But all my kids have sketch books 📕 they are constantly drawing ✍️

        Yes some are very talented ❤️👏

        I also enjoy seeing art and interpretations ❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s great that your children have talent to draw and paint!! 😊😊 There are some decent online programmes that help you create art and I have had a play with some of them! If the technology continues to improve, it will be interesting top see where we are in a few years. That will then re-open the debate as to what is art and is a machine actually producing art or not? 🤔😉

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Do you remember the turtle from the TV Guide lol ?? 😄😄 … did you have that over there? Lol

        Ha! I am pong/and or Atari generation – original gamer lol …

        Atari compared to what they have now is mind blowing 😮🤯😵‍💫

        Well art is a matter of interpretation anyway… so technically would also be art lol … is a form of medium for someone to express self to the world

        Technology definitely changes the world 🌎

        Liked by 1 person

      4. No, I do not recall the TV Guide. Possibly only a US show?
        Atari was great – so many classics! 🤗 Amazing to think how long ago that all was now 😮
        Ha, yes, art is very subjective! Like beauty, it is all in the eye of the beholder! 😉😊

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Lol … tv guide was a small book 📕 you would get to tell you what was on TV… usually on the back page was advertisement to draw this turtle 🐢 if you did well your were contacted by some art school lol

        I know – does not seem sooooo long ago 😮 but you stop and think back and it is lol

        Ah yes the eye of the beholder ❤️👏

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Lol… well I dunno about that… here in America we had Saturday morning cartoons which you looked forward to every week – wake up at crack ass of dawn to catch all the cartoons lol

        Once all the neighborhood kids came over at crack ass of dawn to watch with me lol … my parents were sleeping until they hear all the kids lol … I was probably about 4 or 5 lol

        Friday nights were sleep over nights and saturdays were cartoons

        I dunno pretty awesome moments with classic cartoons ❤️

        Different today… classic is nostalgic ❤️

        I remember being the remote lol ✌️😄😄

        Liked by 1 person

  2. A fabulous post. I’ve never seen a Cross with the five figures on it before – Jesus and four disciples. Really intriguing. It was also interesting to read that Victor Roussin was involved in Finistere.
    I used to hear that name on weather forecasts all the time. And ‘The weddings of yester year’ is so beautiful. Thank you so much for this morning’s glory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Gwen! I am pleased that you enjoyed it! 🙂
      Some of the monumental calvaries here have scores, even hundreds, of figures on them! Thankfully many survived the Revolution but you can still see the smashed stones of those that did not! 😦
      Finistère (Land’s End) is the French translation of the Breton name Pen-ar-Bed that means World’s Head or Top of the World. It’s the far west of the peninsula and the weather is usually wet 🙂 They say that if you can see the crests of the waves, it is about to rain but if you can’t see them, it is because it is already raining! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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