A saturday visit to a place where Paul Gauguin lived for a year.

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A penniless Paul Gauguin immigrated to a lovely place near Pont-Aven in Le Pouldu.

He ended up in a local café from 1889 to 1890 where life was easier and not as expensive as in Pont-Aven and, what’s more,   the owner of the place was quite a beauty in those days. He wanted to conquer her and competed with Meijer de Haan to win her heart. They were both rivals to paint the place.

Haan, ” a slender , rachitic, misshapen , puny  and almost crippled  being »   had  a love affair with Marie;  he fathered a child with her, to Paul Gauguin’s dismay. Marie Henry, the pretty café owner couldn’t stand the arrogant Gauguin.  

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Disgusted and wanting to go and look for other inspirational unspoiled landscapes and  people, Gauguin left the place to go to the Tahitian islands in the Pacific Ocean. 

That painting  rivalry is shown on the reconstructed café where they lived next to “Marie Poupée”.  Both Gauguin and Haan tried their best to show the lady what they could do.

We visited the place we had heard of many years ago, and it was astonishing how colorful it is. Unfortunately all the original paintings on plaster were sold to be sent to the States in the 1920’s and other Gauguin’s paintings were given to Marie Henry as a payment for  providing both food and rent for one year.  When Gauguin came back from Tahiti in 1894, he wanted his paintings back but Marie won in court to keep them as their legal owner. All paintings were sold, the last ones in 1959 by Marie’s daughters. 

What bewildered me most was the fact  that Marie could lead that sort of free  life at the end of the XIXth century in a very prudish, intolerant, hard catholic part of France when children born out of marriage were pinpointed as “bastards”,  ill-treated and objects of constant public reproach , their mother  being considered as sinful creatures or whores not to be approached. It was an infamy for the whole family! That kind of social behavior went on well into the 20th century, up to the end of the 1960’s I would say. I have unforgettable souvenirs on that matter 50 years later when I consider some of  most of these young women’s fate in those days. I was young but I remember! I would have never thought such a visit could bring such a topic to my mind!

To go a little further: there is a house located in Chateauneuf-du Faou where Paul Sérusier, one of Gaugin’s companions in Le Pouldu, had a house which he decorated. The local Town Hall is doing all it can to get that house within its competencies to open it up to the public. Apparently, things are improving with its actual owners and,  hopefully, within a reasonable time, its access should be granted to visitors. This time, we are not dealing with a reconstruction but with an existing house, untouched since Sérusier’s death in 1927. Probably, there will be loads to be done on his house paintings before being inaugurated but let’s be optimistic!