Going to Normandy implies for me a visit to Musée André Malraux in le Havre, a little jewel built on the water with perfect proportions and a steady collection of Boudin, Dufy and other Impressionists. As Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre, writes in his introduction to the catalog, “Guillaume Apollinaire describes Albert Marquet (1875-1947) as someone who watches nature with kindness” and Annette Haudiquet, director of the museum, was well inspired to do this exhibition given the large collection (14 paintings and 23 drawings) of Marquet in the museum. Like many of his contemporaries the artist was attracted by the light of Normandy and by the easy railway connections. He often came in the summer and spent long weeks on the cliffs. While the first pieces in the exhibition were painted in la Percaillerie, near Cherbourg, the later works are all from around Rouen, Honfleur, Dieppe and Le Havre.
Strangely enough, for an exhibition called, “Marquet in Normandie”, the first painting in the show is that of Notre Dame de Paris under the snow. This is a special tribute to two collectors who have bequeathed their painting to the museum like Louis Boudin (Eugène’s brother), Olivier Senn and Charles Auguste Marande, all from Le Havre. How such a small museum could hold so many masterworks is the result of great generosity from local collectors and walking through the galleries after visiting the show is a great source of joy.
The first room is devoted to la Percaillerie in 1903, where we follow the painter and his friend Henri Manguin in an iron mine with an industrial chimney, and inside a peasant’s house with its bed by the fireplace. Very soon after, in 1906, we discover the first paintings of le Havre’s harbor. Marquet took part in the Cercle de l’art moderne’s first exhibition there, and rented a room in a hotel overlooking the harbor, where he painted from with Dufy. There were many collectors in the area and they knew they would sell their works easily. He concentrated on the popular fairs, the harbor and the Bastille Day celebrations.
He went on to paint in Fécamp a little north of Le Havre: sailors with their pretty bonnets and again scenes from the harbor. A room shows four of these paintings together and it is very impressive. The pale light of the works echoes the view from the museum on the sea across from England. On my way out, I ran into a ferry which had just crossed from Portsmouth or Southampton. And I felt I was reliving a scene from one of the paintings…
We discover more views of Trouville near Deauville, of Honfleur, and then later of Rouen with the Seine, which are similar to his views of Paris except for the light which is less grey of course. Marquet will come back with his wife to Le Havre in 1934 and paint again the boats and the quays. His last trip to Normandy is for Dieppe in December 1937. A character walks by the water holding an umbrella. He is just suggested and yet so obvious…
The exhibition is very successfully designed and there is not a moment of boredom in this series of harbors and boats with pale blue skies. Make sure to tour the museum afterwards and look at the large wall of Boudin when you climb the stairs. You will see a beautiful portrait by Van Dongen of “A Parisienne in Montmartre” (1907), more Marquet in Sidi Bou Said and vases of peonies. I ended in the tea room where I loved the raspberry tart and the double view of the water and of the interior galleries. The design of the museum is a real success.
Marquet in Normandy is on until September 24 at MuMA-Le Havre. You can reach Le Havre by train from Gare Saint Lazare or drive for 2 hrs from Paris. On your way out, try to drive across the harbor which is fascinating with its huge warehouses. And stop in Honfleur to visit the little Boudin Museum and the church. It can get crowded on the week ends but has retained its original charm.
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