For artists, when is a painting finished can be a profound question? The client is happy, the work completed on schedule & within the tight budget. Our question was how did the The Port of Gaillac at the head of the R. Tarn appear in 1863 just before a rail link opened?
The ‘fine tuning’ includes tinting of the sky and shadow areas, building of many highlights, refining of figures and attention to many little details, examples being adding ears to the oxen, the Coq of Gaillac onto the barrels, some adjustments to the rising sun and more attention to the surface of the river.
“The Port of Gaillac 1863” shows many social details of life & work at Gaillac on the Quai Saint Jaques on a May morning in 1863, some are described here.
This painting in the tradition I first followed with the very popular “The Port of Chester 1863” which was given a civic reception were we sold over 250 prints,
Regrettably there are no similar plans via the municipal of Gaillac to enable citizens to see this painting and collect copies and unless an invitation is issued very soon the opportunity will pass as I follow work elsewhere.
Of the quai St Jaques we know most of the properties were used and owned by boat builders and gabarre (barge) captains.
At least 7 different types of barges were built and maintained at Gaillac, the largest being near 30 m as illustrated in our painting. Their memory lingers on, a few still exist, a few replicas have been built.
Many of the barges were sold at Bordeaux, others returned with produce, often having to be hauled up river against the strong current, then Tarn being Europe’s second fastest flowing river, by gangs of men.
One property as shown in the painting was a cafe, now defunct but still owned by the same family.
The large watermill was built in 1829 replacing a series of earlier mills whose story goes back to Roman times. I’ve seen the bills of sale.
The barrage (weir) records show is also very ancient and was rebuilt about every 50 years.
The bridge illustrated was built in 1838 and following a fatal accident demolished as dangerous to be replaced in 1939 by the present bridge. One similar bridge still exists over the Tarn.
Beyond the bridge in the calm morning air floats a beautiful balloon, a Montgolfier balloon. The first Montgolfier balloon lifted off in 1783…
We included this balloon because I like balloons, more significantly the morning shown would be ideal to fly a balloon and because Gaillac was an early pioneer of aviation, the aerodrome being opened in 1913, besides which the French love their risk sports and I adore aircraft.
Not illustrated on the right bank owned by the Counts de Noblet, hidden behind the bend of the river and the trees is a lock ; maybe a subject for a second painting…?
The modern lock dates to 1908.
I discovered proof of much earlier locks.
We know the pool above the barrage had quays used by the Abbey St Michel at least since medieval and logically since Roman times, maybe even before that.
We also know the picturesque ancient quarter behind the quay was mostly given over to coopers who were capable of making a barrel per day and as shown in our painting assisted with maintaining barrels.
Our task was made more difficult by the capricious river Tarn, always included to flood, on 3, 4 May 1930 the Tarn rose catastrophically to the roof tops of the buildings on quai St Jaques destroying among other things many records of the river trade.
Thus our painting represents the best possible guess in the time available.
The painting, measuring 2 m x 1 m is now on display at the wine museum ‘inVINcible VIGNEron‘.
Its story, ‘A Creative Process’, appeared on my Facebook posts, enjoy.
There are some first class paintings of the quays of Bordeaux in their heyday, formally the busiest port in Europe.
Upriver ports like the The Port of Gaillac at the navigable head of the river Tarn since Phoenician times fed a wide variety of products to Bordeaux including grain, fresh foods, timber, charcoal for gunpowder, pastel dyes some used for the uniforms of Napoleon’s troops and most famously wine thus for examples we know the wines of Gaillac, Vin du Coq, were drunk by kings of England as far back as the 13th century (record in the Tower of London).
Gaillac wines were mostly exported to Britain, the Netherlands and Germany with some finding their way to the tables of the founding fathers of the United States of America.
Gaillac wines have a very ancient heritage, so are a great subject in themselves.
It is claimed the original ‘champagne’ style wine was developed at Gaillac and the ‘methode anciene’ as opposed to ‘traditionelle’ which persists around Gaillac is the same method used by the Romans.
Both can still be sampled though sadly the R. Tarn is no longer navigable from Bordeaux to Gaillac to enhance your discovery of this remote beautiful department, Le Tarn.
There was a lot more revealed by my research, my time has run dry so I leave you here.
I hope you are inspired to visit Gaillac and discover more for yourselves.
I assure you you will enjoy your visit to Gaillac and Theo Elzinga’s amazing comprehensive wine museum.
My thanks to Theo Elzinga for this commission. I conceived the original idea some 3 years ago which happily Theo took to. I’ve logged 225.5 hours on this painting although the true time taken is considerably more.
There are a few other paintings of the quay at Gaillac, none are very precise; until now.
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Research included visiting the fascinating archives of Albi, Gaillac & Toulouse, my sincere thanks to the staff, the museum of Gaillac, and a very traditional boat yard on the Garonne in Entre Deux Mers were gabarres (barges) are still maintained and occasionally built.
The latter was the subject of a post last summer while I worked on the project “Picturesque Wine Villages of Bordeaux“.
A number of books helped too; one of which about Gaillac was nicked…
Particularly helpful were “Un Fleuve en 1840 La Loire” by Jacques Poirier, “Les Bateaux Garonnais” (I & II) by Francois Beaudouin & the extensive documented research carried out 10 years previously by students of Toulouse University.