Dieppe is a coastal town in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region of northern France. It is a seaport on the English Channel at the mouth of the river Arques, which is famous for its scallops, and has a regular ferry service to Newhaven in England, Dieppe has a popular pebbled beach, a fifteenth century castle and the churches of Saint-Jacques and Saint-Remi. In my blog today I am looking at the French town and its association with French and British artists who made the coastal town a favoured meeting place. The cross-Channel connection between the artists of the two countries came about with the British contingent arriving in Dieppe from London by way of Brighton or Newhaven. One of the earliest travellers on this route was the English marine and landscape painter, etcher, illustrator, author and a leading member of the Norwich School of painters, John Sell Cotman, who arrived in the French town in 1817. The crossing from Brighton had taken him forty-two hours.
Cotman was born in Norwich, the son of a silk merchant and lace dealer. He was educated at the Norwich Grammar School where he displayed an early talent for art. Although it was intended that he followed his father into the family business John was determined to achieve a career in art and moved to London in 1798, where he met artists such as J. M. W. Turner, Peter de Wint and Thomas Girtin, whose sketching club he joined.
Cotman travelled to Dieppe in 1817 and 1818. On his initial trip he arrived at the French port on June 20th and stayed five days at the Hotel de Londres. On his second visit the following June, he just remained long enough to pass customs formalities, renew friendships and then set off inland.
One interesting painting featuring a building in Dieppe by Cotman is his 1819 painting entitled East End of the Church of St Jacques at Dieppe. The church was built in the late twelfth century to become a stage for the pilgrims of the way to Saint Jacques de Compostela. The church is seen from a close angle. Cotman’s viewpoint is in a confined street at the rear of the building and must have been challenging to try to sketch it. Because of this difficulty, Cotman reduced the height of the structure in his depiction. To the left we see the buttresses with an open square to the right, and a ramshackle lean-to building against the walls in front. In the foreground two women are seen driving a donkey loaded with panniers of laundry.
Another English artist who visited Dieppe was Turner.
Joseph Mallord William Turner visited the French fishing port of Dieppe, in Normandy, on two occasions making preliminary sketches, before he completed his painting, The Harbor of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile, at his London studio. Although modernisation had come to Dieppe in the form of steamboats, Turner chose to exclude them from the depiction and instead focused on the vibrancy brought about by the arrival of hundreds of people parading along the quayside which is glowing in the sunlight. This bright golden tones of the depiction was criticised by journalists of the time considering them more appropriate to a southern climate. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition and is now part of the Frick Collection in New York.
The French subtitle Turner assigned the painting, Changement de Domicile meaning change of home address may refer to the couple in the right foreground, who we see loading or maybe, unloading household objects from a boat. Turner completed the painting in 1826, a year after exhibiting it in the Royal Academy, along with its companion piece Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet Boat: Evening, one set at dawn, the other at dusk. As with most of Turner’s paintings, the composition was drawn from sketches made in situ, dating back to his 1821 trip to France.
Turner completed a number of watercolour paintings featuring the Chateau d’Arques, which is situated seven kilometres south-east of Dieppe. It is a 12th-century castle in the commune of Arques-la-Bataille in the Seine-Maritime département of France.
Another artist who depicted the French coastal town in his paintings was the German-born English painter, Walter Sickert. Sickert was fascinated with this popular Normandy resort and was a regular visitor for over forty years. He was so much in love with the town that he lived there between 1898 and 1905.
Sickert’s first trip to the French coastal was shortly after he married Ellen Cobden and was with his new wife during their honeymoon in 1885. His first depictions of Dieppe were of the harbour and beach scenes.
For Sickert, the town of Dieppe became too popular with visitors during the summer months and so he steered clear of the bustling tourist streets and spent time amid the local fishing community which lay east of the harbour, which was known as known as Le Pollet, a district of Dieppe located in the valley, on the right bank of the mouth of the coastal river Arques which flows into the English Channel.
In 1899, soon after his separation from his first wife Ellen Cobden, Sickert settled with a local fisherwoman named Augustine Villain and her family in Neuville, a suburb just beyond Le Pollet. An artist friend of Sickert, Harold Gilman, and his family stayed in Sickert’s house at Neuville, outside Dieppe, from the summer of 1907 and whilst there, he took the opportunity to depict the interior of the house.
The Blind Sea Captain by Walter Sickert (1914)
The friendships Sickert developed whilst living in Neuville and Le Pollet were very different to the circle of friends he had made in the more up-market area west of the town. He even learnt to speak in the ancient dialect of the fishing community and many of his works depicted the local people of the area.
Cauchois is a prominent dialect of the Norman language. The Pays de Caux is one of the remaining strongholds of the Norman language. One of the main towns of this large area is Dieppe. The English Romantic landscape painter, Richard Parkes Bonington, had moved to France at the age of 14 and so, is often considered to be a French artist. His landscapes were mostly of coastal scenes, with a low horizon and large sky, which highlighted the brilliant way he handled light and atmosphere. In his painting, Pays de Caux: Twilight, we see before us a wide empty seascape at twilight, with some cliffs to the left, and with it being low tide we are able to see the flat beach which stretches into the distance. The horizon is low, and the pale, cloudy sky almost overwhelms the painting. In the central foreground there is a dark group of figures on the shore.
It was not just the works of English painters who featured life in Dieppe. The French painters also selected the town for their depictions. Louis-Gabriele-Eugène Isabey was among the first of the nineteenth-century French painters to be stimulated by Dieppe and the Normandy coast. Although the title of this work suggests a fish market in Dieppe it is thought that Isabey was influenced more by the Dutch and Flemish still life paintings. The painting illustrates Isabey’s competent use of shadows and darker tones, which results in a contrast with the more brightly lit areas, such as the fish stall. It also creates an effect of distant space, framing the clifftop chateau which we can just about see in the background.
The French painter, Charles-François Daubigny, also completed many depictions of Dieppe Harbour.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the city of Dieppe was a magnet for artists who wanted to depict its pebbled beaches, colourful harbour, and the many Renaissance château around and about. The great artists such as Turner, Delacroix, Daubigny, Pissarro, and Whistler all stayed for a time in the northern French town, which was a centre of transportation between Paris and London with it being positioned on the English Channel in Normandy.
The wealthy industrialist, financier and avid art collector, Henry Clay Frick, had bought paintings depicting views of Dieppe by Daubigny and Turner in 1904 and 1914, respectively which were then put on show in his New York Gallery.
The Frick Gallery has now added a third, View of Dieppe Harbour, an 1873 watercolour and graphite drawing of the French city by the French painter, Antoine Vollon. The Frick Collection received the work from the pre-eminent Vollon scholar, Dr. Carol Forman Tabler, in memory of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander A. Forman III.
This watercolour by Vollon depicts a panoramic view of the city from the southern side of the port’s inner harbour, looking north. At the centre, we see the Gothic church of St. Jacques. To the left we catch a glimpse of Dieppe’s white cliffs and the château rises in the distance. This vantage point used by Vollon afforded him a view not of the usual scenic beaches and magnificent ships but instead we see rough-hewn buildings and small fishing boats. We see the masts of the tiny figures of the fishermen on the shore. The two women in the foreground wear the headdresses, billowing skirts, and clogs which were typical of female attire of the residents of Le Pollet.
Paul Gaugin completed his painting entitled Le Port de Dieppe in 1885. It depicts choppy sea in the foreground, which he painted in pale greens, blues and yellows. Through the middle-ground we see a number of small sailing boats moored in the harbour. There are buildings on the quayside, some of which are coloured pale yellow, blue or white. In the background to the left is the church of Notre Dame des Greves.
Monet completed his painting The Church at Varengeville, Grey Weather, (L’Eglise de Varengeville à Contre Jour) in 1882. Monet loved painting depictions of the sea and the cliffs and he knew that this subject matter was guaranteed to appeal to Parisian collectors. He often travelled to the Normandy coast in the north of France during the 1880s, painting rocky shorelines and breathtaking vistas in the popular tourist towns of Dieppe, Étretat, and Pourville. In nearby Varengeville-sur-Mer, five miles west of Dieppe, Monet came across this mariners’ church perched atop a steep cliff overlooking the English Channel. He set up his easel on a hillside opposite the church and painted three versions of this scene at various times of day and under different atmospheric conditions. He was to use this system later with his depictions of his haystacks and Rouen Cathedral series of the 1890s.
Lying just west of Dieppe is a former fishing village, which became Pourville-sur-Mer in the early nineteenth century. It was a popular resort in Normandy. The village attracted many talented artists, one of which was Claude Monet, who completed several landscapes paintings of the area.
In the summer of 1899, James McNeil Whistler stayed with his ward, Rosalind Birnie-Philip, and her mother at the Pavillon Madeleine, Pourville-sur-Mer, whilst he was convalescing from a recurrent illness. Apart from brief excursions elsewhere, he remained from the end of July until 26th October. While he was there, he painted a series of nine small seascapes on panel, thinly brushed, and subdued but refined in colour.
Spencer Frederick Gore was a British painter of landscapes, music-hall scenes and interiors, usually with single figures. He was the first president of the Camden Town Group and was influenced by the Post-Impressionists. He seems to have first visited Dieppe in 1904 whilst on a trip to the Normandy coast with Albert Rutherston and Walter Russell. Rutherston, who knew Walter Sickert through his elder brother, suggested that they visit him there, and thus two of the key figures of the Camden Town circle met for the first time. In 1906, the year of the painting, Walter Sickert lent Gore his house in Dieppe for the summer, and during this trip Gore produced a number of studies of the town. In his 1906 work entitled View of Dieppe which depicts a view overlooking the town, it can be seen that Gore was gradually exploring the broken brushstrokes and concentrated colour that he so much admired in the paintings of his friend Lucien Pissarro.
Charles Edward Conder, an English-born painter, lithographer and designer, was born in Tottenham, Middlesex in 1868. He emigrated to Australia and was a key figure in the Heidelberg School, arguably the beginning of a distinctively Australian tradition in Western art.
He spent several years as a young child in India until the death of his mother in Bombay, when Charles was four/ He was then sent back to England and attended a number of schools including a boarding school at Eastbourne, which he attended from 1877. He left school in 1883, at the age of fifteen and his father decided that his son should follow in his footsteps as a civil engineer. The following year Charles Conder was sent to Sydney, Australia, where he worked for his uncle, a land surveyor for the New South Wales government. Charles hated the work although he enjoyed painting and sketching landscapes. In 1886, he left the job and became an artist for the “Illustrated Sydney News”.
In 1890, he moved to Paris and studied at the Academie Julian, where he befriended several avant-garde artists. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, mainly Britain, but visiting France on many occasions. In 1895, Conder came to Dieppe, attempting to socialise among the artistic.
I could go on and on but decided to stop here. It is places like Dieppe that inspire painters and I hope one day you too will find the perfect place to take out your easel and brushes and bring the place to life with your depictions.