Eugène Modeste Edmond Le Poittevin (1806 - 1870)


Eugène Le Poittevin was recognized by his contemporaries as a gifted marine painter, although he excelled at a variety of subjects. Born in Paris to an artistic father who worked at Versailles, Le Poittevin was no stranger to art. His father began as a tapestry storage aid at Versailles, but advanced to chief cabinetmaker in 1827 at both Versailles and Tuileries. Le Poittevin went on to achieve several high honors: he participated in the Prix de Rome in 1829, he was awarded Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1843, and two years later, he was named Chevalier of the Order of Léopold in Belgium.


Le Poittevin’s career took off as Romanticism did, which influenced French painting for more than forty years. In line with Romanticism’s eclecticism and lack of uniformity, Le Poittevin found different sources of inspiration for his work. In a 2020 museum publication dedicated to his life’s work, Marie-Hèlene Desjardins explains that Le Poittevin’s inclination to paint diverse subjects was not a case of irresolution, but rather a testament to his ability to adapt to evolutions in taste. Throughout his career, Le Poittevin mirrored the abundance of the Romantic period, and was never tied down to one artistic theme. For this reason, Le Poittevin is remembered as one of the most representative artists of the ever-evolving Romantic period.


In 1849, Le Poittevin received the title of France’s Official Painter of the Fleet. Although he took up varied subjects like historical painting, Le Poittevin captured maritime subjects like few others. English author Edward Paxton Hood wrote in 1954, “such a fresh marriage of the water breeze and the mountain winds, as altogether only Stanfield, or Turner, or Eugène Le Poittevin could paint…” The coastal town of Étretat, France was the main source of Le Poittevin’s artistic inspiration. After longer and more frequent visits to Étretat starting in 1851, Le Poittevin began living there for a part of the year in 1859. His atelier was on a cliff overlooking the sea, where, as Gustave Nicole remarked in 1861, Le Poittevin could contemplate the immense sea at all hours of the day.


His atelier was more than just a place to paint – it was a gathering point for artists, friends, and locals alike. In fact, at the Mass after Le Poittevin’s funeral, the son of the artist’s friend Bellangé recalled that the church was filled quickly by artists, farmers, proprietors, château owners, and fishermen, all assembled to mourn the town’s great loss.


Although Le Poittevin cannot be reduced to one theme, his scenes of Étretat are unique. His depictions of Étretat, its cliffs, and its holidaymakers demonstrate an intimate connection to the coastal town. Through Le Poittevin’s paintings of Étretat, one understands the painter’s personhood and his profound love for the seaside.