Histoire, Belle île en mer, île de Bretagne, Bretagne sud, au large du Golfe du MorbihanLors de son escale de 3 mois sur l’Île, Monet a peint 39 tableaux !
©Lors de son escale de 3 mois sur l’Île, Monet a peint 39 tableaux ! |Karine Piquet

An impressionist master

in Belle-île-en-Mer

In 1886, Claude Monet stayed on Belle-île for 74 days, from September 12 to November 25. He was then 46 years old. We know his daily life through the 75 letters he wrote to his wife, Alice, and his friends Renoir, Caillebotte and Durand-Ruel. Discover the backstage of his stay in Belle-île, on the wild coast, where he immortalized the Needles of Port Coton.

Claude Monet (1840-1926)

At the origin of a major pictorial movement

Monet is one of the founders of Impressionism, a pictorial movement born in early 1870. More than a school, Impressionism defines a common rule: it is no longer so much a matter of rendering the permanence and stability of reality but rather to express Nature(and in particular its landscapes) in what it has of moving, of transitory.

Technically, this approach translates into the fragmentation and juxtaposition of primary colors and their complementaries, this process aims to produce “colored vibrations.”

In 1886, it is the gradual separation of the group known as “Impressionists”. It began to be recognized: Durand-Ruel was already trying to promote it across the Atlantic.

Breton Escapade

Belle-île, a land of predilection

In this year of 1886, Brittany is fashionable among Impressionist painters: it is all at once exotic, close to Paris and cheap! The painters begin to move “on the ground”, thanks to the invention of the tube of paint (1885) and the sale of easels (finally!) folding. In search of new structures, unforeseen plays of light, different subjects, Monet is perhaps marked by the reading of “Par les champs et les grèves” by Gustave Flaubert (1885), the first island tourist!”

Without premeditating anything, therefore, Claude Monet prepares for a short “tour in Brittany, the cane in hand”. He plans to stay only a fortnight in Belle-Île before joining his friend Octave Mirbeau in Noirmoutier. In fact, Brittany will be reduced to Belle-île…and Belle-île will be reduced to a part of its wild coastline!

Daily life in Belle-île

of the "Prince of Impressionists

In early September 1886, he arrived at Le Palais but saw nothing of interest for him there. He wished to be housed near his motives and therefore left for Kervilahouen. At that time, it is a small village with about ten houses but with 3 hotels, pilots’ houses and The Great Lighthouse, which is the only monument around that one can visit. He is staying at the Marec Inn.

His room is on the 1st floor, on the right, his window overlooks the back of the house, which is where he will paint the “rain” from. He also has a storeroom to store his canvases.

He sleeps there quite badly, without heating, and only eats lobster… “to be disgusted by it”.

He writes every day to Alice Hoschédé, his model and mistress, with whom he has been in a marriage since 1876. He gives her his instructions: education of the children and maintenance of the garden (they have been living in Giverny for 3 years).  In return, Alice counts on him to paint a lot and to support her family (Alice, married but separated, has six children!).

He meets Peter Russel, a very rich Australian heir married to Marianna, a model of Rodin and friend of Van Gogh. Russel invites him to his table, very proud to meet “The Prince of the Impressionists“. Monet delighted to eat something other than lobster, however, ironically:

“Another one who understood nothing about my painting and who is now wrapped up.”

Histoire - Patrimoine bâti, Belle île en mer, île de Bretagne, Bretagne sud, au large du Golfe du Morbihan
©Autoportrait de Claude Monet datant de 1886.

I have a devil of a time sleeping, because of the rats above my bed and a pig that is below my room!

Claude Monet

In addition to these meetings, he is also very involved in local life:

I’m going to have my chat with Father Marec and the pilots; it will distract me a little from my worries (…). In this modest debit where I eat, there would be paintings of admirable figures to do.”

This complicity also leads him to worry when one day of storm the sailors are late in returning…

“the country is upset, we have the greatest concern when two canoes left for fishing this morning while the weather was fine: they had left three and only one was able to return to port. These are the cries of all the wives, sisters, etc…It is heartbreaking […] I am afraid to attend there a terrible drama “. He continues“as I arrived for dinner, the inn was full of people all dismayed; 2 fathers of the departed men were returning from their search along the coast and announcing that there was no waiting for the men (they sank, dead). I assure you that it was cold and it was difficult to hold back the tears. Finally, all of a sudden, noise, footsteps, and the six men of the two boats enter […] Well! It ended with jokes and laughter, and I got to have dinner.”

He works a lot and every day regardless of the weather.

“I received so much hail that tonight my face and hands still hurt and at times I feared that my webs were punctured.”

In Port Domois, Breton fishermen are surprised to see a man, dressed like them, in oilskins, equipped with heavy boots, relentless in painting, despite the gusts of wind and sometimes even storms!

Histoire - Patrimoine bâti, Belle île en mer, île de Bretagne, Bretagne sud, au large du Golfe du Morbihan
©Autoportrait de Claude Monet datant de 1886.

I feel like every day I understand her better, the wench…In short, I’m crazy about her.

Claude Monet

Departure from Belle-île

The Needles of Port Coton make history

On November 21, Claude Monet announced to Alice that he intended to leave Belle-île in the following days to finally go to Noirmoutier where the Mirbeaus were waiting for him. He would have liked to cancel this visit

“to stay a little longer here […] What a pity to be forced to go to Noirmoutier!”

He leaves again on a student pilot boat that goes every 2 days to St-Nazaire. He will never return to Belle-île.

Very close to Claude Monet, Octave Mirbeau will later write to Rodin:

“I went to spend 8 days with Monet in Belle-île…He did very great things: it will be a new strength of his talent. A terrible, great Monet.”

Terrible and formidable, exactly like Belle-île-en-Mer.

The Needles of Port Coton

in 3 tables

A painter trying to tame the Wild Coast with his brushes…Discover the 3 great paintings by Claude Monet that forever immortalized the Needles of Port Coton!