Mathurin Méheut

Images of Brittany and elsewhere

'Images of Brittany and elsewhere' is the title chosen by Méheut for his exhibition in Paris in 1955, contrasting the fact of being a Breton with elsewhere.

Méheut was not what one could call a travelled artist. He did not feel the need to travel to discover new lands and the colonies. In 1921 as a marine painter, he never sought to travel like his fellow artists and would be content to dream up imaginary images of Madagascar to decorate the liner Maréchal Joffre. He rarely took the tourist trail. He allowed himself to be dragged on a family cruise to Egypt and the eastern Mediterranean and late in life to Spain. When he went to spend some time in Dax it was to cure his recurrent rheumatism and, apart from the pine forests of the Landes, he found the countryside uninteresting.

If he had many opportunities to discover ‘elsewhere', it was always as a result of a possible commission or a definite order. In 1913, it was the travel grant from the Albert Kahn Foundation which took him ‘Around the World' to Hawaii and Japan but the trip was interrupted by the outbreak of the war.

In 1930, the prestigious commission for the interior decoration of the Hall of Nations in the H.J. Heinz building in Pittsburg took him to the USA but he did not allow himself to be distracted from his work except for a few urban scenes.

In 1932, les Messageries Maritimes sent him to Crete to prepare the décor for the vessel the Aramis. The trip to Piraeus gave him the time to paint the Acropolis and on Crete he sketched the locals he met on his way to survey the remains of the palace of Knossos the better to imagine the hunts and the ancient games for the twenty-seven decorative compositions that had been commissioned.

For Méheut ‘elsewhere' was largely limited to other areas of France. The region that was dearest to him, after Brittany, was Provence. Invited by Albert Kahn to Cap Martin, he discovered the midi in 1924. He was to return there frequently to build his house in Cassis in 1933. There he regularly stayed in September after his holidays in Brittany. There he sketched varieties of plant-life, the ethnic costumes of Arles, the local fishermen and he frequented the shipyards of La Ciotat and the bull-rings. The pilgrimage to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer was a particular subject of fascination and he had dreamed of a book which collected together his favourite religious festivals: Sainte-Anne-la-Palud, la Troménie de Locronan and les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Belatedly, accompanied by his pupil and friend, Yvonne Jean-Haffen, he undertook a thorough exploration of the region to illustrate Marie Mauron's book En parcourant la Provence (1954). As in Brittany, Méheut was more enthusiastic to capture the local way of life which was under threat.

It was also as a result of commissions that he undertook to explore other regions of France. He stayed in Barbizon and in the Vosges for ‘LÉtude de la forêt' (1927), in Sologne for Maurice Genevoix's ‘Raboliot' and Rambouillet to paint a scene of hunting with hounds.

In his 1955 exhibition, drawing up a balance sheet of his choices and his career, only around sixty of his paintings are about Brittany of the 157 works exhibited. This means that the ‘elsewhere' also played a great part in his life.

By Denise Delouche, art historian


Mathurin Méheut, Porteur de palanche, musée Mathurin Méheut.