Les Aiguilles de Port Coton au coucher de soleilPort Coton est l'un des meilleurs sites pour observer le soleil couchant
©Port Coton est l'un des meilleurs sites pour observer le soleil couchant|Fabien Giordano, Bellimages

3 paintings that tell the story of Monet in Belle-île

In 1886, during his stay on Belle-Île, from September 12 to November 25, Claude Monet will produce no less than 39 paintings. Some of them have marked the History of Art and are among the most beautiful of the Impressionist current!



The beginning of the series

At the Marec Inn, where he was staying, Monet was advised to visit the Grand Phare and the Grotte de l’Étoile. He goes there on foot, alone. He finds Port Coton an interesting place to paint, which immediately makes him think of Japanese prints, very much in vogue at the time (Van Gogh was crazy about them) and the needles of Étretat, from which he returns.

He works on the rock and the sea with very little sky in order to express all the strength or even the wildness of the landscapes. He chooses different framings, seeks to paint the structure of the rock, like a sculpture, which is new to him.

In the morning, the weather was great, but around 9 o’clock, the clouds come, then wind and the terrible rain.”

So he was “forced” to work in series, as the weather and light changed so often. Belle-Île imposed this new method on him, which he would later adopt for his other subjects such as cathedrals or haystacks.

To really paint the sea, you have to see it every day, at all hours and in the same place to know the life of it there; so I redo the same patterns up to 4 and 6 times even…

Monet is truly the “inventor” of the Port Coton tourist site. Upon arrival, there are no roads or Manor Houses, the landscape is flat and open. There is only the Great Lighthouse and the Semaphore of Talut…which he makes disappear from his paintings by the way!


Curés Beach

Painting the feeling: a priesthood

No matter the reality, Claude Monet wants to paint the feeling, that is to say “what happens between the motif and his eye“. He will put into practice the juxtaposition of colors: he applies green and red and the eye will mix the color to make brown appear. He also uses the contrast to illustrate the violence of storms or the pastel with disappearance of the motif in calm weather.

Whatever his technique, Claude Monet seeks to paint the moment, the time that arises, the ephemeral.

Or, the wind, the storm “pisses off” the painter…and there is reason for it! Seized by moments of discouragement, he then destroys his paintings. Thankfully, Claude Monet is surrounded: as early as the end of September he recruits Poly, then Peter Russel’s gardener, to help him carry easels and pallets on the steep paths of the wild coast. A true friendship will be born between them:

 “My brave Poly, who watches me paint with admiration, was sorry to see me touch it up, claiming that it would be a crime to touch up such good things, that he would defy anyone  to do the same, and that it was the best I had done.”

One day of too much bad weather, he made “a rather similar pochade” of Poly…Pochade that he would keep in his studio for the rest of his life.


Rocks at Goulphar

when the little story meets the big one!

Claude Monet will paint Port Goulphar about ten times. He creates the perspective because thanks to the warm colors in the foreground and cold colors in the background. He applies himself to reproduce the “physical” structure of the rock thanks to small touches of paint, like a sculpture. He also endeavors to use the grain of the canvas to create a relief effect.

At the same time (late November) he is expected by his friend, Octave Mirbeau in Noirmoutier. The latter, tired of waiting, joined Monet in Belle-Île and was struck by his work:

“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, formidable Monet.”

Gustave Geffroy is an art critic who regularly publishes his papers in the newspaper “La Justice” that Clémenceau pilots.

In the midst of a political crisis, he goes on the trail of Auguste Blanqui, exiled on Belle-île. There he will meet Claude Monet, at the Marec Inn,  and a cart ride to La Pointe des Poulains will seal their friendship.

Monet would offer him the painting “Rochers à Port Goulphar” in 1900 when Gustave Geffroy became the great painter’s biographer.

Walks and itineraries

In the footsteps of Claude Monet