February 27, 2021

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Grand Dame, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

Recently, a couple of the people in our online virtual sketching group took us, via some real vacation photos taken a couple years ago, on a sketching tour of Brittany. One of those realtime travelers explained that the organizer of their real trip wanted to see and sketch a very specific Breton event in Pont Aven. It seems there is a very colorful parade with various activities called the Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower) festival. And it’s been held every year there since 1905. The organizer of their trip wanted to see the festival in action, especially the costumes the men and women wore for it. Here you can see just such a participant—the Grand Dame of the whole thing that particular year. We were told that she sat on the porch of a second story building, somewhere along the parade route. I guess she was some kind of VIP. Her costume was very ornate and had many parts to it. Lace and/or brocaded fabric seemed to be the order of the day for not only the grand dame, but most of the other men and women that marched, danced and played music for this event. You can’t help but notice the large hat she was wearing with hanging ties that didn’t seem to need to be tied. Anyway, she also had a huge lace collar that turned up at each shoulder. What kind of killed me about the women’s costumes, including the grand dame herself, was that they also all wore aprons. Were they going to be doing some kind of domestic work later, making a pie or gathering apples in the folds of the apron for that pie? 

She was interesting to draw and I found myself wondering how much of her I would be able to capture in the 30 minutes our group had allotted ourselves for each of our 3 sketches. There was a myriad of detail I could try to render. Using my Fude nib fountain pen filled with majestic purple ink I tried my best to capture as much of her as I could with contour lines. I think what was kind of randomly fun and funny about this scene was the pot of dead flowers between she and porch railing. Besides all that lace and folds of fabric I wanted to be sure to get that in. As I hurried along I kept thinking that as she was wearing an apron, she must have been expected to do something domestic right then and there, or maybe she had a job to do right after the parade. Maybe she would help clean the street or cook dinner. But somehow she had forgotten a basic duty, she had forgotten to water that plant directly in front of her. I mean, the Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities must have some direct connection to flowers. I don’t really know French, but I know that fleur in French means flower. Thinking of that bit of irony then as now seems a little unusual to me. Quelle dommage.

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Lady with umbrella, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

For this costumed Breton, I thought it interesting that she most reminded me of the women post-impressionist Paul Gauguin had painted in the very city and countryside of Pont-Aven. He was painting in Pont Aven before 1905, so he wouldn’t have attended any Fleurs d’Ajonc festivities, nor would he have seen someone that was dressed exactly like her. He did lots of colorful and beautiful landscapes of the area. I happen to be unabashedly in love with his oil painting called “A Farm in Brittany.” OMG, his use of color for that one blows me away. His use of pinks and greens in that Breton light cannot be equaled by anyone, in my opinion. He also did lots of paintings of women and men working in the fields, and just kind of moving about the countryside. If you Google “Paul Gauguin in Pont Aven” you will see the places and people he painted. The women back then also wore aprons and similar white hats, but those 19th century hats had a similar shape, but did not look very fancy. I think my lady here must have been taking a breather from the festivities her 21st century day, relaxing a bit under her pert white umbrella. You can’t tell, but she was wearing a modest white hat, much like the long ago ladies from Pont Aven. But I was so engrossed in sketching her with a continuous contour line that her head soon became stuffed into the umbrella and there was no adding a hat here. Oh zut! But her green background with houses and boats along the water definitely reminded me of some of Gauguin’s landscapes. (Well, there wouldn’t have been a car there…) 

Virtual tour of Fleurs d’Ajonc, Pont Aven, France, Resting ladies, 2/14/2021 (majestic purple water soluble ink and Inktense pencils on watercolor paper)

I think this image was our favorite sketching opportunity for the day. I am calling this  piece “Resting Ladies” or “dames au repos.” It was pretty clear to all of us that these lounging ladies had had enough marching and dancing for the time being. But I think we all wondered if they were really done for the day as they were still wearing their festival costumes with those tall chef-like lacy hats. And of course they still had on their aprons. Maybe they weren’t done cooking and cleaning for the day. Hmmm…

Final French note:

Tomorrow, we are going on yet another virtual trip to do some sketching in the south of France. A bientot

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