Montreuil-sur-Mer is about ten miles inland from Le Touquet (and so is not on the sea), and is the first large French town reached by travellers from Britain going to Paris by the direct road south from Boulogne. Steer had been there in 1889, when he painted two Monet-like pictures, one of poplar trees by the river and another of the town’s old fortifications. In 1907 he returned to spend the summer painting there, after a long interval during which he chose to paint in Britain, when he had gradually developed a style that in colouring and subject was closer to Turner and Constable than to the Impressionists. But that autumn, after his stay at Montreuil, he went on to Paris to see the Cézanne (1839-1906) retrospective exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in October, mounted after his death the previous year. Laughton has suggested that Steer’s wish to go to France in 1907 followed from a renewed interest in the Impressionists. There had been a large group show of the Impressionists in London in January 1905 at the Grafton Galleries, organised by the French dealer Durand Ruel, which included a number of early Cézannes.
Steer rented a house in Montreuil, taking with him three artist friends, Fred Brown (the Slade Professor, and his colleague), W.C. Coles (from Winchester School of Art) and Ronald Gray. Steer’s working procedure was to draw in pencil in a sketchbook while trying to find a suitable view, then to make oil sketches out of doors. A larger scale painting was either completed back in his London studio from these, or may also have been begun out of doors on the spot. The Church of Montreuil is a large oil sketch, and was probably painted directly in front of the church. Steer considered such pictures as complete enough for sale, and exhibited this at his one man show at the Goupil Gallery in 1909.
D.S. MacColl, Life Work and Setting of Philip Wilson Steer, 1945, pp. 85-7, 209
Bruce Laughton, Philip Wilson Steer 1860-1942, 1971, pp. 98, 146 (cat. 400), reproduced pl. 185
Ysanne Holt, Philip Wilson Steer, Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan 1992, pp.110-12