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Leave it all behind and head for... Brittany

vendredi 18 août 2017

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  • Les Petites mouettes, Octave Penguilly L'Haridon, musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes
    Les Petites mouettes, Octave Penguilly L'Haridon, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes
    (C) MBA, Rennes, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Adélaïde Beaudoin

Cromlech, bagad, korrigan: these are the sounds of Brittany, the land of legends and contrasts. From the pink granite coast to the beaches of fine sand, the Carnac Stones to the ramparts of Saint-Malo, the strong and lively identity of the people and the landscapes has been an inspiration to all the arts.


Brittany as a source of inspiration

The development of the Celtic Revival at the start of the 19th century saw French intellectuals and artists begin to explore the ancient roots of French culture, and from this point on, Brittany began to attract writers and painters, principally marine artists including Joseph Vernet, Jean-Philippe Crépin, and the Ozanne brothers. Academics recognised historical themes there that fitted with notions of "great painting": Breton heroes dying for their country, workers at sea, models of piety. Later on, the Impressionists found the light and landscapes that would inspire their palettes. With the Pont-Aven School, new trends emerged that would give birth to modern painting by Paul Gauguin, Emile Bernard, and Maxime Mauffra. Even today, many professional and enlightened amateur painters are still inspired by the heathland and the coastline.

From Chateaubriand to Irène Frain, from great moments in history to biographies, historic frescoes to modern thrillers, literature has a long association with the region, which has provided the subject and material for many books. Cinema has also played its part, and Breton landscapes are also at the heart of many memorable films, from the unforgettable "Remorques" by Jean Grémillon to Armageddon by Michael Bay.

Breton et Bretonne dans un paysage, Robert Delaunay, Musées des Beaux-Arts de Quimper
Gauguin : "I love Brittany. There is something wild and primitive about it. When my wooden clogs strike this granite ground, I hear the muffled, dull, powerful tone I seek in my painting." 

A region attached to its identity, its history and its legends

It is impossible to speak of this land at the extreme west of France without evoking its history, both real and literary: the astonishing Neolithic structures (dolmen, menhir, cromlech), the Arthurian legends, the stories of sailors and their adventures all over the globe, the mysteries of the druids, places imbued with the imprint of many beliefs and legends, from Roche-Jagu castle to the Forest of Brocéliande.



Alignements de Carnac, Hervé Paitier, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives /(C) Inrap, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Hervé Paitier

Preserving the Breton language and culture. At the start of the 1970s, in the wake of Alan Stivell, a new generation of musicians breathed new life into this disappearing heritage, actively covering classics from the region and integrating its instruments, rhythms and sounds from another place. This movement opened the door to a new popularity and a surge in bagad (pipe) bands.

As the first region to adopt bilingual road signs, this helped foster a growing familiarisation with the Breton language. The pictorial journey below requires a little familiarity with the local terminology: Penn (head), Quer, Car or Caer (fort, town, village), Plou and derivatives Plé, Pleu, Plo (parish), Loc and Lan (holy place).



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