Exactement Angleterre!

Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in Word from Gazon | Comments Off on Exactement Angleterre!

The southern part of the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy, in the Orne department, has an uncanny resemblance to the English countryside.

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) the famous French impressionist painter, noted this similarity in his diaries when he often used to visit a friend: Paul Valpinçon, at his chateau and country estate in the tiny village of Menil-Hubert en Exmes.

In one of these diaries from the 1870’s, Degas wrote: «Exactement l’Angleterre, des Herbages petits et grands, tous clos de haies. Des sentiers humides, des mares./ du vert et de la terre d’ombre. à travers chemins montueux et boisés …. les feuilles mortes crient sous les pieds. Commencement de l’automne »
«Exactly like England, large and small Fields, surrounded entirely by hedges.  Damp footpaths, ponds, / greenery and shady ground. Along undulating and woody footpaths –leaves crunch underfoot. The beginning of Autumn »

The region around Menil- Hubert isn’t far from the Haras du Gazon, so we decided to take a look ourselves and set out from the village church to follow the waymarked walk ‘Les bois de Sainte-Croix’.

It is indeed a green and pleasant land: crisscrossed with shady paths and tracks and dotted with apple orchards, Normande dairy cows and half-timbered farm buildings.




Autumn is a time for the cider apple harvest and you can visit cider producers along the way at the farm gate and take a look at their varied selection of apple-based alcohol.

I rather liked the look of the Flamb’ Pom’ which is made at the grand old farm La Morinière   http://www.lesvergersdelamoriniere.com. This is a type of young Calvados, made specifically for cooking. It is however 50% alcohol, so a little goes a long way!



Apparently, throughout his life,  Edgar Degas was a frequent guest at Ménil-Hubert and offered the artist a pleasant change of scenery from Paris and a family of captive yet willing models, whom he depicted on numerous occasions. Some of these fabulous, vibrant paintings are now in collections in Europe and the USA, far from the little corner in Normandy that inspired them.


Portrait of Miss Hortense Valpinçon, c.1871, oil on canvas 29 3/4 x 44 3/4 in.

Now at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which notes: This portrait of his host’s eldest child and only daughter, Hortense, ranks among the most memorable products of those visits and stands as the most winning depiction of a child from Degas’s long career.


A Woman Seated beside a Vase of Flowers (Madame Paul Valpinçon?)  Date: 1865, Medium: Oil on canvas, Dimensions: 29 x 36 1/2 in. (73.7 x 92.7 cm)Now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York which notes:

The juxtaposition of the prominent bouquet and the off-centre figure, gazing distractedly to the right, exemplifies Degas’s aim of capturing individuals in seemingly casual, slice-of-life views. The sitter is probably the wife of the artist’s schoolboy friend Paul Valpinçon; Degas immensely enjoyed outings to their country house, Ménil-Hubert, and the dahlias, asters, and gaillardias in the bouquet would suggest a late summer visit. (Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass.).

Aux courses en province At the Races in the Country

Date circa 1872, Medium oil on canvas, Dimensions 36.5 × 55.9 cm (14.4 × 22 in)  Current location: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
 This is a memento of a family outing to Argentan –some 10 miles from the Valpinçons home This was the only racecourse they could reach by carriage and shows Paul Valpinçon, his wife Marguerite Claire and 8-month-old baby Henri (born January 11, 1869), a nurse and even the family dog. The composition is like one of a snapshot photograph, charmingly informal- emphasising that it is the outing, rather than the races, that is the subject – with the family featured in the foreground.

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