Saint-Jean and the Painters


At the end of the 1800s seaside tourism was growing rapidly; Charles Vouaux took over his mother’s inn in 1889 and transformed it into a hotel, able to accommodate a new type of clientèle. These modern visitors included several painters who fell in love with the changing light of north Finistère, its unspoilt coastline and picturesque villages clustered around parish churches. To complete L’Hôtel Saint-Jean and Bains de Mer, he added a little lodge that could be used as a billiards room, tennis court or indeed an artists’ workshop. Called La Maison des Peintres, this painters’ workshop stood on the upper level of the grounds and gave any artists staying there to paint freely, while enjoying panoramic views of the village, the sacred architecture and the sea.


In the early 1900s, several artists from Britain, America and Australia came to stay in Saint-Jean. They often paid for their lodgings with paintings: American artist Thomas Congdom gave Charles Vouaux a painting entitled ‘Last Kiss of The Sun’, featuring the church as seen from the Maison des Peintres. This work now belongs to the local community and is on display at the town hall. Richard Miller – another American artist, who usually visited Giverny – stayed in Saint-Jean from 1912 to 1914, during which time he organised painting sessions for young American women. He gave his hosts a total of thirteen original works in thanks for their hospitality. Similar arrangements were made with Englishman Claude Marcks, the Australian Ambrose McCarthy Patterson, Moïse Kislingles from Poland and two further Americans, Donald Beauregard and Lionel Barrymore.


In 1906, Maxime Maufra stayed here and painted a number of works including The Three Cliffs, The Coast and Moonrise. In 1925, Mathurin Méheut came with his student and friend Yvonne Jean-Haffen to enjoy the atmosphere of the religious pardon and procession; during their stay, they made several sketches and paintings inspired by their experiences. Léopold Pascal, from nearby Morlaix, owned a house near Saint-Jean’s town hall, and he painted a great number of canvases featuring the village and its surroundings. He passed away in 1957, and was buried in the cemetery near the tiny chapel. In the 1960s, another painter from Morlaix, Marguerite Baudouin, exhibited her work on the outer walls of her house, also in the square by the town hall.


In the late 1900s, the Maison des Peintres had been abandoned and was starting to fall apart. A few local enthusiasts wanted to rescue this building with its artistic past, so they encouraged the local authorities to save it in 1998 and to undertake its restoration. Since 2003, a number of exhibitions have been held here, and in the same year, the Argentinian painter Ricardo Cavallo moved to Saint-Jean and founded the Bleimor school of painting (the Breton name for ‘seadogs’) based in a building that the local council made available for him on Place Tanguy Prigent.