May 2005
In this Issue:
Pont Aven: The Artists' Paradise in Brittany
Pont Aven - France
"The Pont-Aven School", Paul Gauguin's Legacy
The course of Paul Gauguin's life followed an unusual path . . .
The Love Forest: a Place, a Symbol, a Talisman
The Love Forest owes its name to the freewheeling lifestyles of the artists and their hostesses . . .
The Trémalo Chapel

Sitting at the top of the Love Forest, surrounded by large paths bordered by hundred-year-old oak and beech trees . . .

Beautiful Angèle
The artists who lived in Pont-Aven were struggling financially, and the innkeepers often had to extend them credit . . .
The Cookies of Pont-Aven : "Traou Mad"
The cookies of Pont-Aven are the pride and joy of Breton pastry-making . . .
The Love Forest - Pont Aven - France

Pont Aven - Brittany - France onjour!
This month, our newsletter will talk about a charming little village in Lower Britanny by the name of Pont-Aven. Once a modest village in the Middle-Ages, it became a small business town mainly known for its watermills and its port, until the 19th century. From 1864 on, Pont-Aven's unique charm attracted artists enamored with nature and light. That was the beginning of a radical transformation for the village. Painting, one of the oldest art forms, brought it fame, while Paul Gauguin, one of the most admired painters in the world, assured it a place in history. But before continuing, please remember that you can access and read all the newsletters already published at http://www.francemonthly.com/
The Watermills of Pont-Aven
"14 watermills, 15 houses" was the colorful description of this small village in the 19th century. It was indeed these watermills that made Pont-Aven famous. The nearby river Aven welcomed the introduction of a dozen or so watermills in the small valley.
Pont Aven and its River
  Pont Aven and its River
(Click photo to enlarge)
This resolute river course still crosses the village, after rapidly running down the nearby Black Mountains and colliding with a jumble of rocks before flowing into the Atlantic Ocean a few miles further. Built by monks or lords, the watermills brought prosperity to the region. Grain, after being transformed into flour, was easily conveyed by waterway along the Breton coastline. This place that was once just a modest ford-crossing became a flourishing port. The shipping of cereals, foodstuffs, sand and other materials leaving Pont-Aven allowed for trade with England. Even though some of these watermills are long gone, the 4 that remain today give Pont-Aven much of its charm, and give strollers much delight: the watermills of Porte Neuve, Rosmadec, Poulhoas and the Grand Poulguin watermill which has become a heavenly crêpe restaurant. As for the famous Ty Meur watermill immortalized in Paul Gauguin's 1888 painting "Les Lavandières" ("The washer-women"), it was destroyed by the tides' repeated battering and is no more.
A Little Inexpensive Hole of a Place

The location of Pont-Aven was discovered in the mid-19th century by a group of American painters who immediately fell in love with this lively and prosperous small town. The calm, the light, the colors, the traditional costumes and headdresses, and the warm welcome from the locals encouraged these artists to settle down there. At the same time, the brand new invention of paint in tubes further contributed to the gathering of these artists anxious to get closer to nature and get their easels out of the studios. Their world was radically transformed by this new technology. Indeed, they could finally leave their studios and set up in the open air to reproduce on canvas the wonderful Breton landscapes that they admired. Considered at the time to be the most exotic part of Europe, Brittany had remained a secret destination. The development of the railroad changed this, and was soon to bring in a wave of Parisian artists who were more or less at loose ends and often penniless. In a letter to Gauguin, the painter Jobbe Duval described Pont-Aven as "a little inexpensive hole of a place". That was all it took for the disillusioned painter to come discover this haven of peace where he would be able to practice his art in all serenity...and on credit.

Salmon Terrine
Recipe for May 2005  
Salmon Terrine
An Easy Appetizer for Spring Time
Preparation and cooking time: 60 minutes
8 servings
Click here to read the Salmon Terrine recipe in English.
Click here to read the Salmon Terrine recipe in French.
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"The Pont-Aven School", Paul Gauguin's Legacy
  The course of Paul Gauguin's life followed an unusual path. He was first a sailor, then a stockbroker, even though he was interested in art and started collecting it (mostly impressionist works) at a very early age. However, it wasn't until he was about 38 years old that he decided to dedicate his life exclusively to painting.
Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
(Click photo to enlarge)

 
In the early 1880s, he was broke. The artistic movement he belonged to was contested and split apart, while his married life was in ruins. It was during this very sad period that he came to Pont-Aven for the first time in 1886. With his past experience as a sailor and traveler, he was very quickly accepted in the port city. Pont-Aven was already home to more than one hundred artists from all over the world. They had followed the footsteps of the American painter Robert Wyllie, who had arrived there twenty years earlier. But Gauguin was a real trail-blazer, and created a new movement called "Synthetism". It's on the Aven river banks that he discovered the energy of colors. He advocated the extreme simplification of forms, and proclaimed: "Paint what you see, not what is!". He gathered a dozen or so painters of various nationalities around him, among them Émile Bernard, Paul Sérusier, Charles Filiger, Émile Schufferecker, Meyer de Hann and many more, and so was born the Pont-Aven School.
 
 
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The Love Forest: a Place, a Symbol, a Talisman
 
  In a poor and somewhat prudish Brittany, the village of Pont-Aven represented a very enjoyable stopover for travelers. The innkeepers always extended them a warm welcome, as did the Breton women. As a matter of fact, the Love Forest owes its name to the freewheeling lifestyles of the artists and their hostesses.
The Love Forest - Pont Aven - France
The Love Forest - Pont Aven
(Click photo to enlarge)
It is in this pleasant green setting, in the shade of hundred-year-old trees, that the painters of the Pont-Aven School liked to meet to find inspiration and give in to their art without inhibition. This is also the quasi-magical place where Paul Gauguin gave Paul Sérusier a most famous painting lesson in October 1888. He advised him not to dilute his paints but quite the contrary, to use his colors directly out of their tubes. The end result of this particular lesson was a real masterpiece painted on a vulgar little wooden cigar box panel: "The Talisman". Owing its magnificence to the pure and fauvist colors, this singular synthetic work alone summed up Gauguin's ground-breaking influences and Sérusier's innovations. It became known as the Love Forest Lesson, the key to understanding the Synthetism movement.
 
 
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The Trémalo Chapel
 
  The Trémalo chapel was a strolling destination for artists. Sitting at the top of the Love Forest,
The Trémalo Chapel
The Trémalo Chapel
(Click photo to enlarge)
surrounded by large paths bordered by hundred-year-old oak and beech trees, this charming 16th century Gothic structure dominates a landscape where it takes center stage. Its asymmetrical roof almost reaches the ground. At the entrance, an angel carrying the coat of arms of the lords of Plessis (the chapel's founding family) greets the pilgrims. The Trémalo Chapel has inspired many an artist, but once again it is Gauguin's work that is associated with this mythical place. Inside the building is a 17th century Christ sculpted in multi-colored wood, that was many times a source of inspiration for the artist, as seen in "The Yellow Christ" and "Self-portrait with the Yellow Christ". Paul Gauguin was sensitive to the Breton faith and religious traditions that were still very much alive, and to popular religious art in general. The chapel has kept its 3 wooden altars, as well as the beams and string-pieces sculpted from polychrome wood into grotesque figurines that represent the 7 deadly sins.
 
 
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  Beautiful Angèle  
  The artists who lived in Pont-Aven were struggling financially, and the innkeepers often had to extend them credit. It was therefore not unusual to find the work of these artists on the walls or even ceilings of the inns and cafés they frequented, as they offered paintings and sculptures to pay off their debts. To thank his friend Frédéric Satre and his wife Angèle for their generosity, Paul Gauguin offered to paint this beautiful woman's portrait. Even though this portrait of Marie Angélique Satre, known as "Beautiful Angèle", is now considered to be one of Paul Gauguin's absolute masterpieces, back in 1889 it was turned down by the Satre family who found it to be greatly disappointing. They could not recognize Angèle who had the reputation of being the most beautiful woman in Pont-Aven. Some time later, the name "Beautiful Angèle" was applied to the hull of a grandiose schooner, as this beautiful woman's family was made up of ship-owners and captains. Today, at about 48 feet long by 15 feet wide, and weighing 31 tons, this spectacular boat still gives the impression of gliding over the water, barely skimming across it, due to its 177 square meters (1,905 square feet) of sail.
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  The Cookies of Pont-Aven : "Traou Mad"  
  In line with traditional Breton cooking, the cookies of Pont-Aven are the pride and joy of Breton pastry-making. As we mentioned previously, Pont-Aven's main line of business was the processing of grain, thanks to the many watermills that lined the river Aven. The cookies of Pont-Aven date back to 1890, when Isidore Penven took over the family bakery from his father. He had started to develop thin and crispy cookies from wheat flour,
The Famous Cookies of Pont-Aven
The Famous Cookies of Pont-Aven
(Click photo to enlarge)
fresh butter, sugar, and eggs, but died in 1914. His widower Francine set off with her new husband, Alexis le Villain, to make these flat round cookies the company's main product. They named their cookies "Galettes de Pont-Aven" and then the thicker ones "Traou Mad" (which in the regional Breton language means "good things"). In 1952, Francine partnered with Roger Belin to create Biscuiterie Le Villain Inc., while Roger, Isidore de Penven's son, started his own cookie factory that he named "Les Délices de Pont-Aven". These two related businesses earned the city the distinction of "Outstanding Site for Taste". You can visit both companies and leave with a sample pack of cookies in your pocket. A good tasting is guaranteed for all, so do not hold back!
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  Not Just Anyone is an American!  
  Established in a small valley with sparkling colors, Pont-Aven played off its pictorial vocation to become world famous. Winter and summer alike, this artists' paradise, as it is still known, lives to the beat of the tides. Pont-Aven is the only place in Brittany that Americans visit all year long, at least that is what is said. For in the mind of Bretons, "the American", a foreigner who is always warmly welcomed, may well actually be an Australian, an Englishman, a Dutchman or anyone else who speaks English. To the artists, no matter where they are from, the spirit of Pont-Aven is summed up by "watermills for the old country's eyes, artists to make is a paradise"...or in Breton: "Bro goz ar milinou, baradoz an Arzou".
 
 
 
 
 
Pont Aven - Brittany - France
       
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