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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Brown

28. A new sort of party in Pont-Aven

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

"This week," wrote the Pont-Aven correspondent for L'Union Agricole et Maritime on Sunday, August 1, 1886, "this week, we attended a small intimate party of a new sort in Pont-Aven.

"Two artists, M. Hubert Vos, who won a medal in this year's Paris Salon, and his studio-partner M. du Puigaudeau, searching for a way to show their appreciation for the hospitality and warm welcome they had received, invited us to their studio for a viewing." Vos (1855-1935) was a (now almost forgotten) Dutch painter who had trained in Brussels and with the academic painter Fernand Cormon in Paris. The painting for which Vos had won a gold medal at the 1886 Salon was the massive Le Réfectoire des femmes à l'Hospice des vieillards, à Bruxelles; he painted this smaller version of it a few years later:

Hubert Vos, The Knitting Room, 1889, Private collection

Ferdinand du Puigaudeau (1864-1930) had opted for art as a career but disdained formal training. He spent the summer of 1886 with Vos in Pont-Aven. "Three months of work has been enough," wrote the correspondent, for them to create "a faithful reproduction of our picturesque countryside and rustic customs." At the center of the exhibition hung a "vast canvas" in which Vos had "brought together characteristic Breton peasants" with "such simplicity and at the same time with such accuracy." I have been unable to locate this painting, but I think we can assume Vos did not stray far from the style of his gold-medal canvas: muted colors, soft light, and easily recognizable types.

Our unnamed correspondent for L'Union described Puigaudeau's works as having "exquisite freshness and delicate poetry." Little of Puigaudeau's early work seems to have survived; this painting from 1886 may convey something of the freshness and poetry that the correspondent noted:

Ferdinand de Puigaudeau, Le Jardin, 1886, Private Collection

It's soft, unfocused, idealized; you half expect a courting couple to appear from under the archway and pose at the top of the stairs.

L'Union Agricole et Maritime, 4MI 45/2, Archives-Finistère.Fr

L'Union Agricole et Maritime appeared on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Edited by a local politician, Louis Terrier, in nearby Quimperlé, it circulated throughout the region. News items ranged from riots in Amsterdam to strikes in Charleroi, advice about keeping poultry to the importance of taking regular baths. On July 30, fishermen from Douëlan had come across a school of sardines "and made a good catch, 4 to 5 thousand sardines on average per boat"although when, the next day, more boats had gone out to the same spot, they had had no such luck. But what could you expect? "The weather has not been propitious for fishing for the last two weeks." There were advertisements for investing in the Panama canal, under construction that year; there was local news. A widow who sold strawberries at the market in Plougastel-Douglas had been fined for adding pebbles to the cartons--cartons were sold by weight. And on July 19, a farmer from the village of Croissant (truly) had been struck down by an aneurysm while scything in his field.

It was, in short, the sort of local newspaper that Marie-Jeanne Gloanec would likely have subscribed to for her inn. It had something for everyone. Both Vos and Puigaudeau put up at the Pension Gloanec, where Gauguin arrived in the middle of July--a week or so before Vos and Puigaudeau hosted their "tasteful reception." Gauguin could have read about the event in the newspaper while he smoked a pipe outside the pension; he could have seen that the event was well-attended, and "that the ladies who visited came in their best dresses." Gauguin would have seen Vos' work at the Salon in April. Did he attend the reception? Likely not. Archie Hartrick--remember him?--recalled that Vos had mocked Gauguin's work in front of Puigaudeau and others.

What Hartrick also recalled was that within a few weeks of Vos taking Gauguin and his splotchy bright colors to task Vos' "studio-companion" Puigaudeau had begun to trail after Gauguin instead. The 24-year-old self-trained artist may have been the first younger man to set up his easel next to Gauguin's, but he was not the last. In the summer of 1886, a group of painters began to gather around Gauguin, painters who would come to be known as the School of Pont-Aven.

Paul Gauguin, Portrait of the painter

Achille Granchi-Taylor, 1885, Kunstmuseum Basel

Paul Gauguin, Still Life with Profile of Laval, 1886,

Indianapolis Museum of Art / Newfields

Achille Granchi-Taylor (1857-1921), who, like Vos, had studied with Fernand Cormon, arrived in Pont-Aven at the same time as Gauguin; friends from Paris, they may have traveled together. They both stayed at the Pension Gloanec.

Charles Laval (1861-1894) had studied with the academic painter Leon Bonnat at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He registered at the Pension Gloanec in the summer of 1886 and met Gauguin and Puigaudeau there.

And around the middle of August--when L'Union was full of local elections, a continuing series on ornithology, and a story about a young man caught climbing an orchard wall with his pockets full of fruit--another young painter hiked into town and put down his rucksack at the pension.

Cormon had expelled Emile Bernard (1868-1941) from his studio for insubordination at about the same time that Vos was winning the Salon's gold medal. Bernard took himself off on a summer walking tour of Brittany. In Concarneau, he bumped into Emile Schuffenecker, and Schuff told him to look Gauguin up when he got to Pont-Aven. Granchi-Taylor introduced them, and Madame Gloanec seated them next to each other in the pension's dining room.

But they did not become friends. That was for the next year.

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