, , , , ,

Rayons du soir (Evening Rays), Charles Cottet, 1898
or Coucher de soleil sur les voiliers 
Fishermen fleeing the storm, Charles Cottet, 1893
(Photo credit: Wikipaintings) 

Théodore Botrel

Théodore Botrel (14 September 1868 – 28 July 1925) is the composer of Le Grand Lustucru.  Botrel was born in Brittany.  He spoke the Gallo language, but later learned Breton, a Celtic language.

The Performer Discovered

Botrel was discovered as a singer-songwriter one evening, in 1895, standing in for another performer.  La Paimpolaise (The Paimpol Girl) is named after the fishing village featured in Pierre Loti‘s 1886 Pêcheur d’Islande (An Iceland Fisherman).  Pêcheur d’Islande is a Project Gutenberg publication [EBook #4785].  La Paimpolaise transformed Botrel into a celebrity.

At the height of his career, Théodore Botrel was associated with Aristide Bruant.  He sang at Le Mirliton, his cabaret.  However he performed mainly at the Chat Noir, a cabaret known because of Théophile Steinlen‘s cat posters, and at the Chien-Noir, a club.  This was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec‘s Montmartre.

After Botrel left his day job, at a railway company, he became the editor of La Bonne Chanson, a journal that published popular verses.  In 1905, he founded the Fête des Fleurs d’Ajonc (Gorse Flower festival) in Pont-Aven, “the first of the music festivals that have since become common in Brittany.”  (See Théodore Botrel, Wikipedia.)  Pont-Aven had become his home.

Botrel’s songs were published as Chansons de chez nous (Songs Bretonnes), in 1898.  However, although Botrel was a patriotic Breton, these chansons are not altogether bretonnes.  They are mostly French chansons.  

World War I

During World War I, having been rejected by two armed forces, he wrote songs for soldiers and patriotic songs.  Patriotic songs were popular at the time.  In 1915, he was named “Bard of the Armies” (Le Chansonnier des Armées), by the government of France.

The Breton Bard

Our singer-songwriter-playwright was proud of his good looks and often dressed in Breton garments.  So did his first wife, Hélène Lugton, known as Léna, a performer who made recordings with her husband.  Léna was not Bretonne but often wore Breton clothes.  She was born in Luxembourg.

Second Marriage

In 1916, Botrel lost his first wife Léna.  They had married in 1891.  In 1918, Botrel married Marie-Élisabeth Schrieber, known as Mailissa.  She is the mother of his two daughters: Léna and Janick.

Botrel died in 1925.  His daughter Léna completed her father’s unfinished autobiography: Souvenirs d’un barde errant (Memories of a Wandering Bard).

Some of Botrel’s songs were translated by G. E. Morrison and Edgar Preston as Songs of Brittany, an online publication.


Artist Charles Cottet

Charles Cottet (1863–1925) was a post-Impressionist French artist.  Born at Le Puy-en-Velay (Auvergne), he was trained in Paris at the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian.  He is best known as the leader of the 1890s Bande noire.  Members included  Lucien Simon and André Dauchez, who had been influenced by the dark colours of Courbet.  In fact, Cottet’s paintings often reflect considerable sadness.  I think he had a beautiful soul.

Song, by Botrel, 1895

La Paimpolaise is the best-known Breton song, especially in Quebec.  Botrel wrote 900 songs, from Brittany songs to songs about the monarchy (he was a monarchist): “the small handkershief from cholet,” “rise fellows,” “the wolf hunt,” “small Gégroire,” etc. During World War I, he wrote songs for soldiers standing in the middle of battlefields.

Douarnenez, Charles Cottet, 1905-1907
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
La Paimpolaise (The Girl from Paimpol)
Quittant ses genêts et sa lande, (Leaving his ‘broom shrubs‘ and his moorland)
Quand le Breton se fait marin, (When the Breton joins the navy)
En allant aux pêches d’Islande (To go fishing in Iceland)
Voici quel est le doux refrain (Here is the gentle refrain)
Que le pauvre gâs (The poor fellow)
Fredonne tout bas : (Hums quiety [to himself])
“J’aime Paimpol et sa falaise, (I love Paimpol and its cliff [there’s no cliff, except a ‘poetical’ one])
Son église et son Grand Pardon,[i] (Its church and is grand Pardon [the day of atonement])
J’aime surtout ma Paimpolaise  (I love, most of all, my girl from Paimpol]
Qui m’attend au pays Breton.” (Who waits for me in Brittany)

N.B. My next post is a complete translation of this song.

[i] The “Pardon” (a day of atonement) is a religious feast in Britanny.  It is rooted in a Hebrew tradition.


Lamentation des femmes de Camaret autour de la chapelle brûlée de Roch’-Amadour,”
(Lamentation of Camaret women around the burnt chapel of Roch’- Amadour)
Charles Cottet, 1911
(Photo credit: Wikipaintings)
Hervé David performs La Paimpolaise
Théodore Botrel
Site : www.hervedavid.fr
Charles_cotter_sailors© Micheline Walker
27 November 2013
Bateaux (1900-1910),
Charles Cottet
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)