The Camden Town Group in Context

Robert Bevan Letter to Laura Bevan Monday, September 1890

Robert Bevan visited the artists’ colony in Pont-Aven, Brittany, on two occasions in 1890–1 and 1893–4. This letter was written to his mother, Laura Bevan, shortly after he had arrived in the town when he was staying at the Villa Julia, run by Julia Guillou. The letter describes the various picturesque sites of Pont-Aven and the Breton people’s traditional language, clothes, work and habitation. Bevan also includes sketches illustrating particular features of the female and male Breton costume. He also describes seeing a traditional Breton religious ceremony called a ‘Pardon’; a photograph that Bevan owned and may have taken himself appears to show one of these ceremonies (TGA 9210/5/1).

Helena Bonett
July 2011

Transcript

[Letterhead:]
Pont-Aven
Villa Julia
[Handwritten:]
Monday. Sept/90
Dear Mother
Thinking a short description of this place and the people may interest you I will do my best to describe it. The town itself is very pretty, with an abundance of old mills, worked by the river which runs through it, which however are rather stale subjects to paint.
The country about is very jolly, & full of subjects, it is much more wooded than, I believe the east of France.
The costumes of the people are very jolly also being the same they have worn for hundreds of years[.] [end of p.1] The caps of the women, as I suppose you know vary in every village.
They are not made cock eye like this one [Arrow pointing to a drawing of a woman wearing a cap] [.]
I have tried with the aid of the Hotel pen to give some idea of them [Three drawings of women wearing caps are alongside].
They look very nice at a Pardon which I suppose you have seen.
We have had several about here lately; at one of them at a seaside village the procession went down to the water side, where the priests blessed the boats; we were on the water at the time and had a splendid view of it
At another one near here there was the usual dancing in the village [end of p.2]
[Letterhead:]
Pont-Aven
Villa Julia
[Handwritten:]
street and wrestling which was very amusing[.] Nothing but Breton is talked amongst the people, most of them knowing very little French, some none at all.
The men look very Spanish in their short coats and wide hats[.] [Two drawings of men in costume.]
Some of the mens and womens dresses are beautifully embroidered. Their way of living is very primitive & frequently very dirty.
Many of the roadside cottages are exactly like the Irish hovels, muck heaps before the doors and pigs and poultry running in and out. [end of p.3] And yet they almost all own their own land.
They spinning wheel is used here a great deal.
I saw a man making a new one only the other day, and assisted in beating out some flax myself yesterday.
So you see how hoplessly [sic] they are behind the times as Father would say
A certain number of English come this way but Thank Heavens we are quite free from the most objectionable sort of tourist, and I suppose as the winter comes on we shall see nobody in the way of visitors.
Will you ask somebody to get and send me a Bellows French & English Dictionary Pocket Edition Frubuer & Co London
Your affect. Son
Robert Polhill Bevan

How to cite

Robert Bevan, Letter to Laura Bevan, Monday, September 1890, in Helena Bonett, Ysanne Holt, Jennifer Mundy (eds.), The Camden Town Group in Context, May 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/robert-bevan-letter-to-laura-bevan-r1104714, accessed 16 September 2014.