From the 1880s onward, the province of Brittany in the Northwestern region of France attracted many printmakers fascinated by its beautiful landscapes, unique regional costumes, and ancient religious traditions.
Perceived as sheltered from the tide of industrialization that had swept Europe, the picturesque scenery and rural life of Brittany offered inspiration for those seeking respite from the toils of modernity.
The most notable printmakers to work in Brittany during this period were undoubtedly those of the School of Pont-Aven, with Paul Gauguin acting as the central figure.
The Pardons of Brittany
Some of the most popular attractions of Brittany were the pardons, annual religious processions dating to the Middle Ages where indulgences were granted for the remission of sins.
For many printmakers, these medieval relics represented a lost way of life, providing a kind of relief from the hyper-materialist culture of modern Paris. Gauguin’s zincograph, Les Drames de la Mer, Bretagne likely drew inspiration from one of these ancient rituals.
The picturesque landscape of Brittany was also very important to the artists of Pont-Aven.
Situated on the coast of the Atlantic, the province offered varied scenery, from rolling pastoral fields to rocky granite cliffs plunging into the sea. In their works, printmakers preferred to focus on these aspects, omitting the hotels, mills, and trade ships that were also an integral part of modern life in Brittany.
Gabriel P. Weisburg, 'Vestiges of the Past: The Brittany "Pardons" of Late-nineteenth-century French Painters', Arts Magazine 55, nov. 1980
Caroline Boyle-Turner, The Prints of the Pont-Aven School: Gauguin and his Circle in Brittany, Lausanne 1986
Catherine Puget, Gauguin et l'École de Pont-Aven, Paris 1997