To say that Henry Moret loved Britany is to understate the facts. Rather, he lived and breathed it. He knew the craggy cliffs and sun-struck vistas intimately, drawing from them endless inspiration and creativity. In fact nearly the entirety of Moret’s career was spent within this comparatively small region. Moret only occasionally returned to Paris, and to his supportive dealer Durand-Ruel when the need arose.
Henry Moret moved to Pont-Aven, Finistère, in 1888, and was, like so many of his fellow artists there, moved by Gauguin’s new Symbolism during the early 1890s. But while others were drawn to the theoretical analyses of painting that took place over drinks at the various Auberges which served the artists’ colony, Moret preferred to keep to himself and he began to detach from the Symbolist movement, quietly developing his own technique. “One can never be neutral. Silence is an opinion” he once said, and indeed, rather than indulge in deep discussion with Gauguin and his more devoted disciples, Moret would trek off, sometimes with his friend Maxime Maufra but more frequently on his own, to explore and learn directly from the landscape itself. As Henry Hugault wrote in his preface to the 1959 Durand-Ruel retrospective of the artist’s work, for Moret, “Britany was stronger than any theory”.
The present work depicts a cove in Finistère. The artist successfully conveys the soft, misty horizon line, the gentle sloping of the ground towards the sea, the coastal air blowing the shrubbery and his attention to these atmospheric minutiae are what gives the work its strength and sense of proximity. Jean-Yves Rolland, who is compiling the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work, describes it thus: “Movement and light suffice to support the work. The point of view is objective and photographic. There is… not a single human element to distract the eye. The present work seeks to situate itself outside the realm of humanity. This focus on atmospheric effects is what places the work among Moret’s beautiful impressionist works“.
Moret’s devotion to the naturally occurring scene he had set out to translate into two dimensions is perhaps what allows the viewer to relate to his works, even when he paints elements of landscape which are well outside the human scale. It is this appreciation for his environs which the artist transmits to the spectator, drawing us towards seeing through his sensitive lens. Indeed it was by tirelessly making delicately rendered, yet powerful portraits of his cherished Britany that Henry Moret paid his homage to Nature, the force he recognized as the greatest artist of them all.
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