Commissioned from the French painter Pierre de Belay in 1923, the decoration of the Ker-Moor Hotel's dining room is being auctioned in December. The end of an era for the five pictures that launched the artist's career.
Pierre de Belay (1890-1947), Le Pardon de Sainte-Anne-la-Palud, 1923, oil on canvas, 185 x 412 cm.
A stone's throw from the beach in Bénodet, the Brittany resort, the Ker-Moor is one of the last remaining hotels of character that flourished by the sea in the Roaring Twenties. Owned by the Daniel family for four generations, it is shortly going up for sale. For Jean-Charles Daniel, this means parting from a treasure that includes the magnificent restaurant decoration commissioned in 1923 from the Quimper painter Pierre Savigny de Belay, a close friend of Max Jacob. The five monumental oils on canvas will be offered separately under the system of provisional bidding with a multi-unit option (overall estimate: €170,000/200,000). Pierre de Belay was 33 when he painted this decoration: a commission that marked the start of his career and ensured his success. "At that time, the hotels in the region frequently employed artists. But all their decorations have been dismantled and dispersed. The work at Bénodet, which is intact, is the only one still in its original venue," says art historian and Pierre de Belay specialist André Cariou. The artist was given a free hand. He created five scenes based on festivals in the region's religious and social calendar. Here, through truncated perspectives, stylised figures, geometrised clouds, blue shadows and flat tints (apart from the foliage on the trees, depicted in small fragmented strokes), the artist affirms the bold, modern style that subsequently characterised his easel paintings of port and market scenes. The largest of the compositions – also the most traditional in terms of subject – shows a procession, probably that of the Pardon de Sainte-Anne-la-Palud (€45,000/50,000), where a self-portrait of the artist in a green cap can be seen at the top left. The four other paintings show far more profane scenes, with refreshment and open-air dance halls. Signed, dated and set in their original wood frames, they are still in remarkable condition, and the colours are as fresh as ever. "That's miraculous, given that the restaurant has never ceased doing business," says the auctioneer, Yves Cosquéric. The decor is conceived as a whole. "To separate the pictures would be to destroy the artist" is the blunt assessment of Guillaume Ambroise, director of the Quimper Musée des Beaux-arts, whose collections contain no fewer than three hundred works by Pierre de Belay, donated by his widow. Interested parties are given due notice.