Lumière d’Opale

Musée du Touquet-Paris-Plage

"The Etaples Art Colony between 1880-1920"

A beautiful sunny day tempted us to get in the car and travel to Le Touquet and visit the exhibition being held in this lovely little museum, situated just outside the town.

The exhibition focuses on the art colony that grew up along the Côte D’Opale, the stretch of coast of northern France running from the Belgian border down to the Somme estuary, in the late 19th century in the years leading up to the First World War.

Paris in the 19th and early 20th century was considered the artistic centre of the world, attracting artists from all over. Once there, helped by the growth of the railway, these artists started exploring other regions of France, seeking inspiration for their work.

This exhibition focuses on the group of artists that gathered around the towns of Etaples and Camiers, forming what came to be known as the School of Etaples. As bars and restaurants tend to, The Hotel Loos on the main square in Etaples became their favoured meeting place.

An official group was even set up, under the auspices of French artists Eugène Chigot and Henri Le Sidaner, called la Société des Amis des Arts. Their first exhibition was held in the newly built town hall of Etaples in 1892. From 1896 their paintings were generally exhibited at the Salon de Picardie, at Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, until the 1920’s with a gap during the First World War for obvious reasons.

The main draw to this coast was the light and nature, in the aftermath of the Impressionist heyday. But landscapes were not the only attraction. The local population going about their daily activities, the market and fishermen and women proved to be equally attractive as subject matter.

Some of these artists set up home along this coast buying or renting the cheap fishermen’s houses, while the majority came for a few weeks, often in the summer. An American, Blanche McManus later wrote

‘…the colony has been formed by buying up, or renting, the fishermen’s cottages at nominal prices and turning them into studios. Such is the popularity of art that the native fisher people importune one to be taken on for models with as much insistence as the beggars of Naples appeal to strangers for money.’

An article extolling the virtues of this part of France for artists, appeared in the journal “The Crafstman” written by Jane Quigley in 1907.

If you click on “The Crafstsman” title heading image,  you can read and download a pdf copy of the original article that appeared in the journal.

As well as outlining the best spots for painting Quigley also mentioned the best places to stay and to eat. 

‘The usual plan is to live in rooms or studios and eat at the Hotel des Voyageurs or Hotel Joos – unpretentious hostelries with fairly good meals, served in an atmosphere of friendliness and stimulating talk… Artists pay about twenty-five or thirty francs a week for board and rooms, and studios are cheap

…Étaples has been called – and not without reason – a dirty little town, but it is healthy for all that. The artistic sense finds pleasure in its winding cobbled streets and mellow old houses and in the dark-complexioned southern looking people…There is constant work for the sketch book, especially on Monday, when the boats go off for several days, the whole family helping the men and boys to start. All one can do amid this bewildering movement of boats putting up sail, and people bustling about with provisions, is to make hurried notes and sketches.’

Interior view of the Hotel Joos

Although artists continued to come to the region into the 1920’s, the outbreak of war in 1914 effectively brought to an end the heyday of the “colony” as it had been, with most of the artists returning home or moving on.

During the war Etaples became a major military base and hospital for the British Army.

As always with our look at various exhibitions we visit we let you in on some of our favourite pictures and some  interesting pieces, from what are, today, lesser known artists.

The exhibition which runs until the 22nd May is curated by:

Marie-Françoise Bouttemy and Jean-Claude Lesage

By clicking on the exhibition poster, you can download a copy of the information booklet for the exhibition, in English.

Go Further:

Whilst there were too many artists to list individually, in addition to the exhibition booklet which you can access from the poster, the below links will help you make a start in finding out about these artists.

Picture of His 'n' Hers

His 'n' Hers

"I'm afraid Art is not one of the 'pivotal' Trades in the modern state, but rather condemned as some foreign substance like dirt, on the rim of the wheel liable at any moment to be dropped off. So be it, it is an idiotic world...Still we HOPE, STRIVE, CONTINUE..."


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