Claudine Chalmers



 BARBIZON-BY-THE-PACIFIC
by Claudine Chalmers and Guy de Rougemont



Coming Soon

As of March 1, 2015, our designer Jonathan Clark is at work on the book layout, readers and copy-editors are combing the text, and contact has been established with the Simoneau family in France, which, we hope, will help shed new light on one of the story's important actors. We are getting very close to publication!

BARBIZON-BY-THE-PACIFIC

 

            As an habitué of Fontainebleau, the vast forest on the outskirts of Paris that lured so many painters, Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson reflected on what it takes to found an artists’ colony: first, a beautiful, uneventful place where there is nothing to do but paint. And next, a local in-keeper who is willing to accommodate visitors "in greasy coats and with little baggage beyond a box of colours and a canvas," not to mention their need for unlimited credit.


            That combination is exactly what Jules Tavernier found in Monterey in the fall of 1874. At the time, the former state capital certainly met Stevenson's definition of a "quiet scenery." All seemed wilderness around the sleepy town. More than half of the "siesta-dozing" Montereyans had not even seen the famous Cypress Grove, even though it was a mere two miles from their homes. Bohemian writer David J. McRoberts quipped that the place was "so dead that not even an earthquake would make it lively."


            Familiar as he was with the artists colonies of France, Tavernier immediately perceived how the untouched surroundings of Monterey and Carmel could become a plein-air sanctuary for painters, but according to his friend McRoberts, it took more than just the trained eye of the artist.

           "I doubt whether Tavernier would have discovered Monterey but for one congenial spirit, truly Bohemian, Père Simoneau," McRoberts reminisced. "A dinner at Simoneau was a feast of good cheer and sometimes revelry. [...] The old man himself joined in the feast of the Bohemian brotherhood with gusto and it never appeared to trouble him whether anybody could pay the score or not."

            Simoneau, would in fact become a savior to Stevenson, as well as a standard-bearer. "Out of all my private recollections of remembered inns and restaurants," the novelist wrote, "not one can be compared with Simoneau’s at Monterey."

            Tavernier was equally enthusiastic. He went back to San Francisco and reported to a friend that he had found "a veritable Fontainebleau... with the sea thrown in as a majestic accessory." From that point on, the French artist tirelessly promoted Monterey as a new Barbizon: "Tavernier, bearing in mind the happy days spent at Barbizon, Marlotte, Grez, and the Vallée de Chevreuse, has since his arrival here… striven to create around the artistic work of himself and others, a charming social life –to make, in fact, his studio a gathering point for wit, talent and bonhomie. To the hundreds who visited his studio at Monterey, this was at once apparent."


            Many of the talented painters and writers who converged on Monterey at that time were familiar with Fontainebleau and its rural artistic retreats. Fanny Osbourne and her daughter Isobel, who had both studied art at Paris' Académie Jullian and practiced at Grez, took residence in the sleepy village in the winter of 1879. Joseph Strong headed there too, fresh from his art studies in Europe. So did vagabond poet Charles Warren Stoddard, and the great as-of-yet-unknown Robert Louis Stevenson who had met and fallen in love with Fanny at Grez-sur-Loing.

            Romance was part of the mix as well: Jules Tavernier met his future bride Lizzie in the small coastal town, Stevenson traveled from afar to Monterey to reunite with Fanny, Fanny's daughter Isobel eloped to marry Joe Strong, while Adolfo Sanchez, the dashing proprietor of the Bohemia Saloon, courted Fanny’s sister, Nellie.

            Monterey blossomed as an artists' colony. But just as Tavernier had been the first to come, he was also the first to leave. The other members of the group soon followed him to San Francisco, and for a time, they played a leading role in the city’s artistic life.

            They also remained deeply attached to Simoneau. "Your friendship and kindness to Mr. Stevenson are among the very few things he can remember with unalloyed pleasure connected with his stay in California," Fanny told him in a letter. As his fame grew, Stevenson maintained an intimate correspondence with the French innkeeper, and Simoneau was the only person to whom he sent all ten volumes of the first American edition of his complete works, each of them inscribed, and Charles Warren Stoddard became a frequent visitor after he settled in Monterey at the turn of the century.


            Jules Simoneau's congenial disposition and his philosophical insight enabled him to establish lasting friendships with the circle of Monterey's Fontainebleau-by-the-ocean, and they filled his existence with a sense of accomplishment. For even if Tavernier and the artists who orbited around him enlivened Monterey for only a few years, they left a vivid mark on the town and set an example in their quest of nature's metaphoric power, that lived on with generations to come.