Mathurin Méheut (1882-1958)

Mathurin Méheut was born into a family of craftsmen. In1896, in Lamballe, he was apprenticed to Mathurin  Guernion, a house painter; his earliest dated drawings are from this period. In 1898 he entered the Ecole Régionale des Beaux-Arts in Rennes  (Ille-et-Vilaine), In 1902, having completed his studies in Rennes, he settled in Paris, working on the magazine 'Art & Decoration',  and his illustrations of fish and corals are published. At the same time he enrolled at the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

In 1905 he wed Marguerite Rouja at Le Mans, and the couple settled in Paris in the 15th arrondissement , 45 rue Falguière.
Between 1910 and 1912, he lived and worked at the Biological Station of Roscoff where he was able to study and draw the marine environment in a scientific context.  It is there that the foundations were laid  for his book Etude de la mer 1913-1914 edited by  Maurice Pillard (known as Verneuil).
In 1913, an exhibition mounted in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris brought together 450 of the works he had created in Roscoff, representing marine fauna and flora, and the magazine 'L'Illustration ' published several of these works in colour. At this point, the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco and the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris acquire a number of his works.

Mathurin Méheut was awarded the "Round the World Scholarship" by the Albert-Kahn Foundation. He was thus able to travel to Hawaii, and then to Japan where his stay was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I. He returned to France and in October joined  the 136th Arras infantry regiment; between 1916 and 1917 he was on detachment to the topographic and mapping service in Sainte-Menehould and then at Bergues. He made a series of war-sketches documenting life in the trenches, and was demobilised in 1919, returning to his teaching position at the École Boulle in Paris, where he would remain until 1928, apart from a short spell teaching at the École Estienne, also in Paris.

After the Armistice, he returned to his native Brittany and worked as an illustrator and decorator. Having become the official painter for the Navy in 1921, Meheut's greatly diversified his activities: between 1924 and 1935 he participated in the decoration of nine ocean liners, including the Normandie. He also illustrated books, and collaborated as a ceramicist to the Henriot pottery in Quimper.
In 1926 he joined the society of artist decorators, and in 1927 produced his first ceramics for the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres.  
Witness to an era, passionate about the inhabitants and landscapes of his native province, he criss-crossed Brittany from Rennes to Dinan, from Roscoff to Saint-Guénolé in Bigouden country, leaving behind him a  profuse production of works and a detailed  and  varied testimony of the Breton life of his times. Between 1940 and 1944 he taught at the the École des Beaux-Arts in Rennes.

In November 1942, having come to the Bigouden to spend a few days with his friend the writer Auguste Dupouy, on the evening of his departure he arrived in Pont-L'Abbé after the curfew, too late for the Hôtel des Voyageurs where he had intended staying the night. Glimpsing a ray of light from the house across the street ( the Maison Le Minor) he decided to try his luck, and knocked on the door of the Le Minor family, who immediately and spontaneously offered him their hospitality.
It was  not long before Méheut became part of the household. A correspondence began between the two which would only end with the painter's death. He produced a quantity of sketches which were to give birth to the historic logo of the Maison LE MINOR, featuring the ermine. In November 1948, Méheut and Jean Le Minor - one of Marie-Anne's sons who was then a student in Paris - together took care of the installation of the display in the windows of the Grande Maison du Blanc, which were dedicated that Christmas to articles designed and produced by Maison LE MINOR.

The first project which Mathurin Méheut and Marie-Anne Le Minor developed together, was the publication of a major work on the embroidery and embroiderers of the Bigouden. Colette was approached by her friend Méheut to write the text ; and it is after this that she would  become Marie-Anne's close friend. Her deteriorating health prevented her from fulfilling this commitment. Two works on the subject of the embroidery appeared in the post-war years, and they were illustrated by Méheut.

Following this , the artist designed the decoration of the boxes which held the LE MINOR dolls, as well as the table-linen La Mer, the printed pendant to the table-ware bearing the same name, designed by Méheut for the Henriot pottery in Quimper. Some sixty years after its conception, it is still produced, in two different colours, and is still one of the jewels  of the LE MINOR  collections.
As a result of his frequent visits to the LE MINOR workshops, Méheut left behind a great number of sketches, water-colours and drawings of the embroiderers, the employees, the workshops and the LE MINOR boutique, which is still appointed with its original Breton oak furniture.
Mathurin Méheut was elected to the Académie de Marine in 1956, and died in Paris on 22 February 1958. He is buried in  Paris, in Montparnasse cemetery. He left an indelible stamp on the history and artistic development of the Maison LE MINOR.

A Mathurin Méheut museum has been  created in his native town, in one of the 15th century half-timbered houses, with roughly 5000 of his works .*

*We are immensely grateful to Armel Morgant for his extensive research on the Maison LE MINOR, on which this article is largely based. See LE MINOR publications....

 

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