Imagine a miniature world of contrasting landscapes, of beaches, woods, and hills on an island where one is never more than some hundreds of feet from the sea. On the Ile-aux-Moines, the camellias, Hortensia, and mimosa crowd around old stone houses and ancient megaliths, refreshing the land as the tides do the shore. A place of beauty and the quiet necessary for contemplation. How much like paradise would this place have been to a young artist who also loved the natural world and its creatures?
Henry de Waroquier (1881-1970) .was born in Paris 18 January l881. As a child, his imagination was stirred by scientific discoveries so he went back and forth, considering biology and art before choosing a vocation, writing of his struggle: “What interests me isn’t art, but life.” In the event, he chose both.
Paris in Waroquier’s youth offered the new art at Galerie Durand-Ruel and the Japanese art at L’Art Nouveau Bing., both nearby, a heady abundance of Impressionism and “la lecon orientale.” In 1903 Enrolled at L’Ecole Estienne in 1903, Waroquier’s instructors practiced the cult of the curvilinear. Her later wrote that in his early works he tried to understand the relationship between land, water, and sky through the lines that joined them.
Between 1901 and 1910 Waroquier made extended annual visits to the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany, attracted by its ancient, stony landscape and the chance to observe marine life close up. He stayed on L’Ile -aux –Moines (Island of the Monks) near Locmariaquar, famous for its oyster fishing, and also on Belle-Ile-en-mer, another nearby island. In Breton, Mor bihan means “small sea” and the term refers to its characteristic tidal estuaries. Indeed, many of the place names in the area describe the landscape in evocative ways: : bois d'amour, bois de soupirs, bois de regrette (the forest of love, the forest of sighs, the forest of regret.
Waroquier began to study the techniques used by Divisionist painters around 1905 and later turned his hand to Cubism but his.pole star continued to be the diluted colors borrowed from faded, old Japanese prints. He also expressed his affinity for another painter of Breton scenes, the somber realist Charles Cottet.
Waroquier, the japoniste, eschewed the use of traditional perspective. His many studies of waves, bouquets of trees, and panoramic views leave the viewer up in the airo to speak. Perhaps Waroquier imagined himself as part of the ‘floating world’ when he painted; some of his pictures are annotated with text, as are many ukiye-o works.
In later life, he created a series of clustered masks that were displayed on the Boulevard Saint-Michel during the protests of May 1968. . Henry de Waroquier died in 1970.
Note: My thanks to Neil Philip of Idbury Prints for his comments on an early version of this article, especially for pointing out that Henry de Waorgquier lived across the street from Galerie Durnad-Ruel as a child.
Images: from Henry de Waroquier: Images de Bretagne by Jean-Pierre Fourcade, Paris, Somogy: 2000.
Study of Fish, 1900, pastel.
Still Life on Japanese paper, 1909.
Golfe de Morbihan, 1907, pastel.
Le chemionde la longue de la cote, 1908, watercolor and charcoal.
La Greve - Ile-aux-moines, (with cows at left) 1908, Musee de beaux-arts, Rennes.
Boats. Ile-aux-moines, 1906.