It is from the tiny fishing village of St. Enogat that Dinard began to expand during the nineteenth century to become the resort town it is today. That is why St. Enogat is called The Cradle of Dinard. It was originally it’s own separate town but was incorporated into Dinard proper in 1858. Downtown Dinard, where you find the Casino and the main tourist beach is about a kilometer away from this little enclave where our rental apartment sits. It has its own beach, separated from the main Dinard beach by a promontory. We are very happy to be in the less crowded part of town. St. Enogat feels very much like its own little village. It reminds us a little of Carmel.
Meanwhile, we have been studying the history of this place. A plaque posted in the center of town piqued our interest. In rough translation, it reads:
Until 1850, St. Enogat was a small fishing and agricultural town. During the Belle Epoch, St. Enogat became the place where artists and intellectuals met. Albert Lacroix, famous editor of Victor Hugo was a big promoter of the St. Enogat beach. In 1875, he purchased a large piece of land and began to construct a compound where artists could meet, live together and create. He called it “The Ocean Villas”. Many contemporary artists were charmed by the location, including Judith Gautier, daughter of Théophile Gautier and first woman to be accepted into the Goncourt Literary Academy. She regularly invited friends like Debussy, Yamamoto, Paul Valéry and John Sargent to her villa called “The Bird’s Meadow.”
This brief summary turned into a research project for us. We knew some of these names, but who was Judith Gautier, who figured so importantly in the town’s history? We had never heard of Yamamoto either, someone so distinguished, apparently, that he only needs one name.
If you have any interest in 19th century art or literature, you may have heard of Théophile Gautier. He was an extremely important French journalist, art critic and poet in his day. He wrote the libretto for the ballet Giselle. He was a Bohemian iconoclast who was at the center of the important artistic movements of his time. He was friends with Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Delacroix, Manet and influenced Baudelaire, Proust and Oscar Wilde. He coined the expression “Art for art’s sake.”
He had two daughters, the eldest of which was Judith. She was a poet and novelist in her own right. She was the first woman to be admitted into the esteemed Académie Goncourt. She also was a translator, fluent in Chinese and Japanese. She was responsible for introducing Europe to the poetry of these two countries. Yamamoto, a Japanese artist who studied western art in Paris was her friend and a frequent visitor to the home she bought in St. Enogat. I found it amusing to think of Yamamoto painting a western style portrait of Judith during the same years that Monet, Van Gogh, Whistler and Degas were furiously collecting Japanese art and falling under its influence.
Albert Lacroix, the first of the literati to discover St. Enogat in the mid nineteenth century, was a highly idealistic editor who published Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables when no one else would touch it. It was, in fact, on his way to visit Hugo, who was exiled on Jersey Island, that Lacroix spent a night in Dinard. Before catching his ferry, he took a walk and discovered St. Enogat beach which captured his imagination. Within a few years, he had bought a large parcel of land and began to build a kind of utopian artists’ retreat on the bluff above the sea. He wanted to create a community where people could create together. Judith Gautier was an enthusiastic participant in this plan. On her parcel she built a modest home within a huge garden, which she named “Le Pré des Oiseaux.” She was, like her father, a free-thinking individual. She was married briefly, but divorced. She was the lover of Richard Wagner, in whose opera Tannhauser, she and her house in St. Enogat are, apparently, obliquely mentioned.
Later in her life, after retiring permanently to St. Enogat, she lived with a much younger woman named Suzanne Meyer-Zundel, who inherited the house and lived in it until her own death in 1971. They are buried together in the St. Enogat cemetery.
As far as we know, the intelligentsia have moved on, but it’s satisfying to imagine their days on the beach of St. Enogat. Judith, we understand, wandered just under our windows in her kimono. The house we live in was built 11 years before her death.