and the « SEIZH BREUR » (Seven Brothers)
Born in Brittany, Xavier de Langlais was imbued with the Breton spirit. All his life he was an apostle and a militant one, too of Breton culture.
Xavier de Langlais began by becoming a member of the « Seizh Breur » (Breton for « Seven Brothers »). Seven, magic number, but also « la Pléiade bretonne » (See Note 1). In fact there were to be more than seven. This Breton artistic movement was founded in 1923 by Jeanne Malivel and René-Yves Creston. These enthusiastic young artists wanted to re-create Breton artistic expression, at a time when the word Breton still made people think of « Bretonneries » - the hat, the breeches and the draughts of cidre, typical of Théodore Botrel, and so often disparaged.
This point of view was shared by numerous talented young artists wished to get away from the classic path traced by their predecessors favouring a quest for authenticity. They wished to renew Breton art in its entirety and to adapt it to modern times whilst still retaining its special character. At the same time they aimed to replace an art rooted in the past with an art evolving and developing in the Celtic spirit. Members of this cultural movement were Jeanne Malivel, who was of prime importance, James Bouillé, Xavier Haas, Georges Robin and many others. Xavier de Langlais was one of them, being the youngest of the team : he was eighteen when he joined.
This movement of « the Seizh Breur » had a marked influence on Xavier de Langlais' engraving, a facet of his artistic expression less well known to the general public. It is also interesting to note how homogenous was the manner of engraving of these Breton artist. For my part, I think it is not too exaggerated to say that, in engraving at least, these artists formed a veritable School, like the Impressionists of Pont-Aven in the domain of painting. On several occasions, these engravers worked together, notably in the publication of a series on Breton saints, each artist being responsible for a certain number of engravings. This work was remarkable, for, though each artist had worked in his own style, the whole creation was completely coherent. As I have already indicated, that perfectly illustrates my analogy with a School of artists.
To be involved in the Seven Brothers was to share a spirit of the soul, to have a passion to escape from the beaten path ; it was a search for authenticity. This source of inspiration had a bearing upon Xavier de Langlais' painting. He too refused to engage in « Bretonneries ». That was the basis, in my opinion, of the moral constraints, to which he bound himself from his earliest days. Paradoxically, he also wanted to give his painting a strictly neutral cachet which would have a common appeal for everybody. This was to avoid the criticisms made against so many of his predecessors and contemporaries. Perhaps one can explain this infatuation with painting of scenes from the past, of which my father was a bit disdainful, by the rapid pace of the evolution of our civilisation. Thus it transpires that these paintings have become valuable evidence of a by-gone age ; paintings in which it is often difficult to detect the talent and the personality of the individual artist. These numerous painters of the first half of the twentieth century would doubtless have remained completely unknown without this revolution of modern life.
However, there was nobody more Breton than my father. For the reasons which I have just given, he did not want his paintings to be stamped with his origins ; his Brittany is rarely present in this aspect of his life's work. I can confirm that he did it with conscious aforethought. To sum up : that is the answer I received on the day when I put to him the question which was intriguing me. He wanted to leave a record as a classical artist and not simply as a witness of his times.
Xavier de Langlais was in complete harmony with James Bouillé : together they founded « l'Atelier Breton d'Art Chrétien » (The Breton Studio of Christian Art). Their most complete achievement was the building of the Chapel of St Joseph's College in Lannion, where they were responsible for every detail of the planning even including the religious vestments. It was Madame de Planhol who designed all the ornaments and cloths.
James Bouillé died in the chaos of 1945 as a result of a perfectly unjustified imprisonment. The Breton Studio of Christian Art did not outlive its founder. Xavier de Langlais was to be the last president of the Seven Brothers. But the heart had gone out of the movement : it died of its own accord, shortly afterwards.
Gaëtan de LANGLAIS
Translation : Terence O'HARA, M. A. Oxon
Note: la Pléiade Name taken by a group of sixteenth century French writers and poets, seven in number, as in the group of stars, the Pleiades.