B R E T O N P A I N T I N G S F O R
S A L E
Mathurin Méheut 1882 – 1958
Penmarc'h, le pardon Notre-Dame de la Joie
Casein on paper laid on canvas 99x136cm
Signed by the artist
Provenance: Private collection, France
Price on application: dominick [at] mpfa.ie or telephone 353-1-269 3486
In February 2013, the National Maritime Museum in Paris devoted
a major exhibition to the multi-faceted talents of Mathurin Méheut.
Appointed painter to the French Navy in 1921, Méheut worked throughout his
life within a marine environment. Originally celebrated for his work as an
illustrator, this versatile Breton became an established engraver, designer,
sculptor and painter, not to mention his extraordinary work in ceramics at
the famed Henriot pottery in Quimper and at the equally celebrated Sèvres
Méheut was born in Lamballe, just a short distance outside Saint-Brieuc on the
road to Rennes. From an early age, he showed signs of his artistic genius
and enrolled at the École des Beaux-Arts de Rennes. He graduated at the
tender age of twenty and set out to make his name in the artistic quarters
of Paris. However, his roots remained firmly in Brittany, which became the
principal source of inspiration for his life’s work. He became a contributor
to the prestigious magazine, ‘Art et Décoration’ and a two year sojourn in
Roscoff inspired ‘Étude de la Mer, Flore et Faune de la Manche et de l’Océan’,
which was met with great acclaim. After a successful exhibition in Paris in
1913, he set sail for Japan but his excursion there was unfortunately
interrupted by war.
Shortly after his return from Japan, he became official painter to the
Department of the Marine. By the early 1920s, his work as an illustrator was
in great demand with authors such as Maurice Génevoix and Pierre Loti. He
also collaborated with Colette, who became a great friend. She was best
known for her novel, Gigi, which Lerner and Loewe turned into the famous
stage and screen musical of the same name. Florian Le Roy's ‘Vieux Métiers
Bretons’ of 1944, with 350 superb illustrations by Méheut, is regarded as a
Although his travels took him far afield, the vast majority of his work
centres on Brittany where he moved from village to village making rapid
sketches of field workers, harvesters and village
life. Using his extraordinary personal vision, these drawings were later
worked up to full size on return to his studios in Paris in a manner which
bordered on Symbolism. However, not content to render his work in
traditional oil paint, he sought to convey the spirit of his observations in
whatever medium would best portray his subject matter. In the current work,
he chose casein as the binding medium, an aqueous paint made from skimmed
milk. This versatile medium has been in use since the Renaissance and has
stood the test of time well. One of the unique features of this medium is
that it takes on a wonderful matte velvet finish, not dissimilar to egg
tempera. The surface dries to a very resilient water resistant finish. In
our example, an additional lustre appears to have been achieved by the
addition of gold in the decoration of the costume.
The Pardon was a very popular subject with the artists who worked in
Brittany at the end of the 19th century. They found the colourful pageantry
and throngs of worshippers in their fine costume irresistible. Examples
range from Walter Chetwood Aiken’s monumental Pardon of Sainte-Barbe to the
tiny panels of Alide Goldschmidt, which we included in our 2006 catalogue.
The Pardon gets its name from the Latin perdonare, and refers to the
indulgence granted on the feast day of the patron saint of a particular
chapel. According to the Catholic Encyclopaedia of 1914, pilgrims from every
walk of life flock to the Pardons, clad in their best costume. The greater
part of the day is spent in prayer and the Pardon begins with Mass at four
o’clock in the morning. Its observance, however, actually commences the
preceding evening with confession and the rosary. After the religious
service, a great procession takes place around the church. At St. Anne
d'Auray, for example, this procession is especially striking and impressive.
All those whom the intercession of St. Anne has saved from peril and danger
join in. The sailors are there with fragments of the vessel upon which they
escaped a shipwreck; the lame are there carrying on their shoulders the
crutches, which they no longer need; and those rescued from fire carry the
rope or ladder, which they used to escape from the flames.
Méheut packs much of this sentiment into the current work and it is hardly
by coincidence that the central character in the foreground is severely
crippled. Even so, this old man settles with his extended family as they
form a circle, seated on the bare ground. The main procession makes its way
along an undulating road towards the distant village, with sodality banners
commemorating different saints carried high on stout poles. A tri-master
barque under full sail appears on the horizon and leaves us in no doubt that
the scene depicts a coastal village. Between the barque and the foreground
group, only the extraordinary headdress of the Bigoudennes appear above the
stone walls which, together with the distant white-washed cottages, are
reminiscent of Paul Henry’s West of Ireland scenery.
The small chapel of Notre-Dame de la Joie sits on the waterfront at St.
Guénolé on the southern end of the baie d’Audierne, just below Penmarc'h.
This particular pardon was a popular subject with the local artists and
those from further afield who were undoubtedly attracted there by the
colourful pageantry and the unusual head dress worn by the women. The pardon
traditionally takes place in the middle of August and continues to this day.
On grounds of style, it is possible to suggest a date of 1921 for the
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