The Basque country

The Basque country

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  • Pays Basque.

    COLIN Gustave Henri (1828 - 1910)

  • The Bidassoa Valley.

    BARTLETT Paul (1881 - 1965)

  • Basque landscape.

    CAMI Robert (1900 - 1975)

To close

Title: Pays Basque.

Author : COLIN Gustave Henri (1828 - 1910)

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 152 - Width 220

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage location: Jeanson de Sailly high school

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. L'Hoir / J. Popovitch website

Picture reference: 76-000919 / RF2728

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - J. Popovitch

The Bidassoa Valley.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot / All rights reserved

© Center Pompidou Collection, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / All rights reserved

Publication date: August 2009

Historical context

Landscapes, rural life and situation of the Basque Country in the first third of the 20th centurye century

The Basque Country, crossed by the Pyrenees, includes Spanish provinces and three French provinces: Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule. In addition to the coastal and high mountain landscapes, the region is characterized by rounded hills, grassy highlands and shallow valleys, lands traditionally used for grazing.

The French Basque Country remains a largely rural region in the 19th century.e century, industrial development then mainly concerned the Spanish part and the ports. There is also a wine and market gardening tradition, and the cultivation of corn, intended for animals, developed in the XXe century. However, between 1850 and the 1930s, the region experienced a strong emigration of rural populations (especially those in the highlands), particularly to South America.

The first third of the XXe century, the period in which the three works studied here (1908-1935) were produced, is therefore marked by the rural exodus, linked to industrialization and urbanization which, however, remain moderate. These times of change are also experiencing a certain intensification of the Basque regionalist movement, both guarantor and promoter of a Basque identity associated in particular with the language, but also with natural landscapes and local traditions.

Image Analysis

Style variation on the Basque motif

The first table, Pays Basque, was produced by Gustave Henri Colin (1828-1910), before 1908. In the background, the rather steep Pyrenees form the horizon. Below, nestled in the valley which flattens out to the right, appears a small village dominated by the white steeple of its church. On the green hills where there are two small buildings, peasants are engaged in the work in the fields. Their equipment is quite rudimentary, and nothing brings any sign of modernity. In the foreground, a woman rakes the grass which has just been mown and which will undoubtedly make hay for the animals.

The second canvas, entitled The Bidassoa Valley, is the work of Paul Bartlett (1881-1965). Dating from the first quarter of the XXe century, it is of a more modern style, reminiscent of a certain Impressionism, or even Cézanne. It represents a vast landscape where the Bidassoa river, the border between France and Spain, in the western Basque Country, winds between rounded hills with shaded greens. In the background, a village with its church and in the background higher and more misty hills. Closer to us, men are at work, seen from above, almost more suggested and diagrammed than described. In the foreground, trees (beeches?) And a peasant weeding the ground.

Finally, the drawing Basque landscape, by Robert Cami (1900-1975), produced before 1935, also shows a vast expanse of hills, but this time snow-capped and dotted with bare trees. The relief is rendered by a play of more or less pronounced lines of ink, which give the rather stripped-down ensemble a certain dramatic intensity.


Men scattered and melted into the landscape

Each of these three images represents a landscape much more than the men who occupy it - Cami's drawing is entirely devoid of it. In both paintings, the men, their activities and even the villages where they live, always small and as if inscribed in nature, are almost insignificant, details scattered here and there in a vast landscape which encompasses them and far exceeds them. Visible above all in the modest exploitation of these lands that a very basic agricultural equipment allows, the human presence appears as a dotted line, blended into the whole. Even though they appear welcoming, these hills are nonetheless relatively high land, with harsh winters (as the drawing suggests), windy (there is some noticeable movement in Bartlett's stroke), and difficult to highlight. The Basque Country also experienced a fairly significant rural exodus in the 19th century.e and XXe centuries.

  • Pays Basque
  • peasants
  • regionalism
  • campaign


Georges DUBY and Armand WALLON, History of rural France, volume III “Apogee and crisis of peasant civilization”, Paris, Le Seuil, 1976. Manex GOYHENETCHE, General history of the Basque Country; 5 volumes, Bayonne, Elkar, 2005. Jean-Claude VIGATO, Regionalist architecture: France 1890-1950, Paris, Norma, 1994.

To cite this article

Alban SUMPF, "The Basque Country"

Video: The mystery of the Basques


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