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.
Visitors to Brittany in the 18th and 19th centuries noted many beliefs surrounding the little folk of the region. This post continues to look at some of the more notable characteristics once attributed to a specific group of fairies, known as the Fairies of the Swells, in the local legends and folklore of northern Brittany.
According to Breton tradition, the fairies abandoned Brittany all at once and over the course of a single night. Local legends differ as to when that time was but at the end of the 19th century it was usually said to have been when one’s grandparents were very young or even during the turmoil of the Revolution; dates so distant that nothing then resembled what exists here today.
A long time ago, when magic was commonplace and the fairies still lived amongst us, there was a prince of Poher who had been blessed with six healthy children. This aging nobleman was content that his lands were peaceful and that his wife and children were happy in the realm he had fought so hard to maintain; all save his only son, who seemed consumed with wanderlust and dreams of faraway places.
The constant sequence of religious and secular festivals and seasonal practices forms an endless, familiar, chain that repeats itself around our lives each year. This continual renewal marks a completion of the annual cycle but where should we rightly place the beginning and the end?
In Brittany, the magic of Christmas night was once said to have been so complete that no evil could act. It was a moment when only the son of man and the toad slept; a time when animals spoke to each other in the tongues of men and secret treasures were revealed.
While outbreaks of bubonic plague and their dreadful death tolls might have been consigned to history and efforts to eradicate coronavirus continue apace, other diseases such as cholera, dysentery, typhoid, smallpox, measles and influenza, were once responsible for extraordinary devastation here in Brittany.
Breton pirates or privateers such as Jean de Coatanlem, Duguay-Trouin and Robert Surcouf amassed great prestige and wealth from their buccaneering exploits on the high seas. Other Breton pirates are perhaps not as well known today as they once were and the adventures of two particularly remarkable women are well worth retelling; stretching as they do from one of the bloodiest conflicts of Medieval Europe to the golden age of the pirates of the Caribbean.
Plants once played an important role in the traditional medicine of rural Brittany, being employed in a wide variety of remedies to treat all manner of ailments. Most of the tried and tested herbal recipes were tightly guarded secrets only handed down within the family unit. Fortunately, many of the old remedies were captured for posterity by forward thinking people keen to ensure the knowledge that had sustained generations of Bretons was not lost forever in the march to the modern world.
The legends of Brittany attribute marvellous origins to many of the structures that litter the local landscape. Some Neolithic megaliths were said to have been created by the enchanter Merlin while others were assigned to the magical korrigans and fairies or the giant Gargantua. Many Medieval buildings were, sometimes rightly, attributed to those great builders, the Romans or else to the Knights Templar. Similarly, local lore often attests that various notable landmarks such as bridges, churches and mills were built by the power of the Devil; some were even said to demand a human sacrifice.