Elisa Marie Stéphanie Adrienne Sonrel, known as Elisabeth Sonrel, was born into a family of amateur artists. Her father, a medical doctor, was an artist in his spare time, as was her uncle, a magis- trate and watercolourist. However, Elisabeth Sonrel decided to take up art professionally and went to Paris to study at the Académie Julian when she was about 17 years old – at the time women were still not admitted to the École des Beaux-arts. At the very beginning of her career, Sonrel mainly produced watercolours, and she started exhibiting them in 1893 at the Salon des artistes français. She also produced illustrations on religious themes for prayer books. At the turn of the century, she shifted her focus to painting and began to work in larger formats, although she continued painting watercolours, a technique in which she excelled and which she never gave up. The female figure – the Marian heroine as the feminine ideal of chivalric romance –, occupied a central place in her work, which lay somewhere between Symbolism and Pre-Raphaelism. But much of what she produced was also concerned with capturing images of everyday life en plein air.1

In the 1910s, Sonrel began to make regular summer trips to Brittany, the island of Bréhat, Le Faouët and the whole of the south coast, from Plougastel to Concarneau, including Pont-l’Abbé and Loctudy, as far as Le Croisic.2 There, she studied and used as models young women and children who were imbued with local traditions and also reflected a certain social reality. It was a time when Brittany and Breton folklore were a magnet for many artists – and had been since the middle of the 19th century.3 The watercolour we are presenting here differs markedly from the more spiritual if not religious works that Sonrel produced during her first trips to Brittany. This painting is very spontaneous, almost photographic, and reflects the energy of young holiday-makers playing by the sea. This is another side of Brittany: the seaside resorts and the modernity that pitched onto its beaches during the summer months. Sonrel masters all the effects of watercolour and succeeds magnificently in capturing atmosphere, the sensation of air and light. This work may date back to the 1930s, when Sonrel had a villa built in La Baule.
M. P. – tr. Jeremy Harrison

1. In general, for all documentation on the life and work of Élisabeth Sonrel, we refer to academic research by Charlotte Foucher: La Vierge, la dame, la muse : une approche des représentations du féminin dans le Symbolisme d’Élisabeth Sonrel (1874-1953), 2nd year Masters dissertation in Art History, under the supervision of Pascal Rousseau, and defended at the Université François Rabelais, Tours in 2008; and also her article: Charlotte Foucher, “Elisabeth Sonrel (1874-1953) : une artiste symboliste oubliée”, Bulletin des Amis de Sceaux, n° 25, 2009, p. 1-27.

2. There is a whole set of watercolours identified as depicting Le Croisic and dated 1928 and 1932 (Paris art market).

3. On this subject, see: Femmes artistes en Bretagne 1850-1950, exh. cat., Marie-Paule Piriou, Jean-Marc Michaud, Denise Delouche, Musée du Faouët, 29 June-13 October 2013, Le Faouët, Liv’Éditions, 2013, p. 40, 96, 98-99 and 105.


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