Monday, September 15, 2008


Charles Cottet [1863-1925]
Au pays de la mer.(Les victimes de la mer) Douleur [In the Land of the Sea (The Victims of the Sea.) Grief]
1908 et 1909
Oil on canvas H. 2.64 ; L. 3.45m
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

On a makeshift trestle on the shore is the body of a drowned man, a Breton fisherman. Over him bend his anguished wife and his weeping mother and one other (his sister ?). The serious faces of the men and the grief of the women are vivid and almost real.

Perhaps it is an appropriate picture on the day of commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The religious parallels of the tableau are obvious. They do not need to be spelled out. They are not coincidental.

It is a large painting with at least three titles. On one level it simply depicts as Cottet was wont to do, the harsh life of mariners and their families in the port of the Ile of Sein . But he transformed the event into something more universal.

In addition to grief and pity, there is also resignation: the utter helplessness of Man alone in the face of more powerful forces than himself.

Stormy seascape, scenes of bereavement, the ordinary lives of Breton people were the scenes which Collett often depicted. But in doing so, he attempted to address fundamental human issues

Collett was a pupil of Puvis de Chavannes. But it was his first visit to Brittany aged twenty three which set him on a course which lasted him for the rest of his life.

He was initially associated with Les Nabis, later becoming the leader of the Bande Noire, a group that formed after he met Lucien Simon and Andre Dauchez. Sometimes deignated as a post Impressionist but more probably belongs to the Realist school. In any event he is an original painter whose originality is still apparent today.

He painted with great tonal intensity, somber lighting, and directness.

This is the second version of the composition which he painted and exhibited in 1908 at the Salon de la Société National des Beaux-Arts, and refined in 1909 for the exhibition at Tokyo.