|Georges Lacombe, Yellow Sea (Camaret)|
In about a month, I'll be back in Brittany. How can I explain what I am doing there? I find it embarrassingly impossible to give a short answer when questioned. My first time there was in the fall of 1997, but it wasn't until 2006 that I went there to research. But the idea of Brittany had pulled me for a long time, without having much knowledge apart from the artists of the Pont Aven circle. I was discouraged from pursuing Brittany and landscape as a dissertation topic. "It's been done" I was told, and for that moment in art history, turning to Brittany seemed hopelessly nostalgic, for hadn't we fully debunked primitivism and the "tourist gaze" ?
Instead I wrote about Millet and Normandy, using some recent work on Brittany as a model. In 2005, I ran across a call for papers for a conference Constructions of Death, Mourning, and Memory, and racked my brain for a worthy topic. I remembered having been overwhelmed by Charles Cottet's painting, Wake of a Dead Child on Ouessant in Quimper. The resulting research on Cottet's images of mourning, loss, widows and mourning objects was presented at another conference, The Merry Widow: Rethinking Widowhood in History, Culture and Society at the University of Wales, Swansea, and then was published as a chapter in an excellent collection, Women and Things. And between these two conferences, I made my first research trip to Brittany.
In a very roundabout way, I hope to use this blog to figure out what it is that I have been doing there, and thinking about there, ever since. There will be an overabundance of images (a small taste of things to come below), many of which I will try to contextualize.