Louis-Nicolas Van Blarenberghe, View of the Port of Brest, 1774, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest.

Louis-Nicolas Van Blarenberghe (1716 – 1794), who descends from a family line of painters from French Flanders (Lille), is best known for his battle scenes and his depictions of ports. He painted several views of the port of Brest as it was strategic for the defence of France.

This large painting is one of those 18th century paintings that alludes to the city of Brest rather than showing it clearly. Artists were always more inspired by the activity taking place in the arsenal than that in the streets. In this painting, we are situated at the mouth of the Penfeld, a river that provides exceptional natural shelter for fleets. Shipbuilding work is being carried out by the convicts in the foreground. Behind them, on the right, we can make out the silhouette of Brest castle, and on the left, the Navy buildings’ string of orderly facades.

The painter pays particular attention to the light by painting a vast sky with golden hues. The liveliness of the Penfeld is thus glorified: the port of Brest was the pride of both the city and the kingdom at the time. Maritime activity is at the heart of Brest’s imagination.

Sonia de Puineuf