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Ernest Walbourn in Lannion 1923

This is the fourth post about Ernest Walbourn’s painting trip to Brittany in 1923 and our attempts  to follow in his footsteps in 2005. The  previous posts can be seen here,  here and here.

The story so far: in a pile of oil sketches by Penny’s grandfather Ernest Walbourn (who died in 1927) we discovered that some dated from a 1923 painting trip to Britanny. In 2005 we decided to track down the views he had painted and photograph them as they are now…

The discovery of the chapel in St Fiacre and the market hall in Le Faouët was incredibly exciting. We had two days left before we had to leave for my gig in Avignon, and several pictures still to identify.  Closer inspection of Peter’s sketch of a river with the squat tower suggested that the river was probably tidal. The only other name we had was Lannion, scribbled on the back of a field that could have been anywhere, but it is on the coast and the map showed a river running through it. It was all we had to go on, so we crossed our fingers and set off north to have a look.  As soon as we crossed the brow of the hill outside the town we recognised the two church towers, one a slim spire and other unmistakably flat-topped.  As we got closer we could see the river, with the trees miraculously the same size as in the painting from 82 years before.

Peter also sketched the same view:

We were also able to  solve the autumn tree riddle. We knew they  were there in the summer but the trees on one side of the river seemed autumnal. We could now see that the right bank was planted with horse chestnuts, which lose their leaves much earlier than the plane trees on the other side; and by coincidence we had arrived at a time when the next generation of replanted avenues exactly matched those in the picture.

Closer still, we found that the tide was out and there were stakes for a kayak slalom course, but we managed to find Ernest’s downstream view:

at some risk, as Ernest had obviously set up his easel in the middle of the road, and the original trees were grown so huge we had to resort to a bit of trick photography:

The family must have spent some time in Lannion as there are several sketches by Peter, his eye pretty amazing for a 12 year old:

We climbed the hill which Peter had sketched, looking for where he’d painted the church. There’s probably an Ernest of the same view out there somewhere.

After a lot of speculative position changing we finally found the exact place where he had been standing (like many of his father’s, in the middle of the road).

The old stone terraced cottages sadly now a car park:

We tried hard to make Lannion’s half-timbered houses and one grand square fit the sketches but again drew a blank. What of the field with its scribbled ident? That evening we looked again at the map and there was a bend in the river that might well produce the view we wanted, but we had one more day and thought we should have another go at Rochefort-en-Terre.

2 Responses to “Ernest Walbourn in Lannion 1923”

  1. Roger Marsh says:

    What a lovely report. It must have been so exciting! There’s nothing like sightseeing with a purpose. I once went in search of all the sites mentioned in ‘Les Mysteres de la Cathedrale de Chartres, without as much success as you had retracing Ernest’s steps. I don’t suppose he painted in our bit of France did he? We could do the legwork for you……. Love to you both.

  2. John Potter says:

    It was very exciting, and it’s been great to re-visit it during lockdown. I don’t think Ernest ever ventured beyond Brittany, but he may have gone there several times as there are finished canvasses out there of places I’ve never heard of. But if you find yourselves in Dinan I’ll send you copies of what we’ve got! There’ll be one more post about this trip then maybe one based on his easel. We have pics of Ernest painting at it in the 20s, and Peter 50 years later. The third generation uses it to display a large unfinished Ernest which hides the tv….

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