Born into a family originally from Pleyben, in Finistère in Brittany, Octave Penguilly L’Haridon enrolled at the Ecole Polytechnique in 1831. He rapidly combined his military career with training as an artist under the painter Charlet, without abandoning his duties as an officer and went on to become Director of the Musée de l’Artillerie in 1854. The painter exhibited works at the Salon from 1835 to 1870. Although he enjoyed portraying historical subjects in armour, both on canvas and in illustration, he is known today above all as one of the first and most original champions of the Breton landscape.

This originality earned him the admiration of Baudelaire in his reviews of the Salon, an enthusiasm which was shared by Théophile Gautier: “Far from paths trod by man, along deserted bays, and in creeks known only to seagulls and kittiwakes, he [Octave Penguilly L’Haridon] goes in search of rocks with strange and monstrous shapes, bizarrely jagged horizons, blue-green and cerulean seas. With the exactitude of a daguerreotype, he reproduces these locations in a scrupulously realistic fashion. You might think they came from the moon or Mars, they are so different from the sights one is accustomed to" (Abécédaire for the Salon of 1861, p 305).

With its rocky aspect and amazing composition containing a minimum amount of sky, this view of the Normandy coast at Belleville (Seine-Maritime) painted in 1868 is evocative of the almost fantastical world of the artist’s finest paintings. The marine landscape was presented at the Salon of 1869 (Côtes de Belleville, n° 1895) along with another variation on the theme of cliffs (The Spoonbills, n° 1894, acquired by the State and sent to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in La Rochelle) and is one of the last masterpieces by the artist, who died in 1870.

C. L.

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