Le Havre

Tuesday 21 May 2019

The cycle into Le Havre took just over an hour and was fairly pleasant, although cycle routes were a bit sporadic.

You will be unsurprised, loyal reader, to hear that, as a strategic port occupied by Germany, Le Havre had the holy crap bombed out of it.

I don’t think you’ll accuse me of exaggeration.

After the war, Belgian architect Auguste Perre took on the task of rebuilding, favouring concrete for speed. The new city layout was grid based, and this gives a flavour of the buildings.

I don’t mind a bit of modernism and quite like this.

His piece of resistance is this church, though it looks like a cathedral to me.

Again, concrete, but I thought it was fantastic inside.

The whole place is a piece of theatre, from the lighting to the way the altar is dressed. A great piece of design.

From the sublime to the audacious,

these shipping containers reflect that Le Havre (which does mean The Harbour as you suspected) is France’s largest container port.

This is The Volcano,

A cultural centre built in the eighties. It’s stands across the road from

the war memorial, which looks over this dock.

All these landmarks buildings are on or around the waterfront.

Now, I don’t know what you consider modern. I’ve been thinking about this and have settled on ‘in my lifetime’. The mid-fifties was when post-war austerity gave way to technological optimism, wealth, inventions for the common man, and put creativity over utilitarianism.

I was, therefore, somewhat disappointed, as someone who is developing a great interest in modern art, to find that in the Musée D’Art Moderne

most work was from late 19th, early 20th, and the rest older, by hundreds of years.

I knew the main exhibition was of Raoul Dufy, who was closely associated with the city up to his death in 1953, but I hoped there might have been something a little more edgy than countless impressionist paintings of sea, sky and boats.

I did like some of his paintings, these two in particular for being big and bold,

but the one picture that was really worth the ticket price was this.

The angle of the photo is not great, due to avoiding reflected light, but this was painted by an unknown artist in the late 1500s, early 1600s. It looks like a mock up by Vogue! And what a knowing look. The detail is exquisite – everything softens away from the face making her personality stand out. Sadly for someone whose presence is so tangible hundreds of years after her death, she’s simply ‘portrait of a woman’. I hope she had a long and happy life.

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