Albert Brenet, who recently celebrated his hundredth birthday, is surely the last of the true adventurers, having spent his life sailing the oceans of the world as the French Navy's official artist.
He was born in Harfleur, near Le Havre, in 1903, and 'at home, the talk was always about the wind, the sea and the ships'. Then there were the three-masters with their exotically perfumed cargoes of spices and coffee.
The turning point in his life came when he first caught sight of the Bonchamp, one of the last three-masters to ply the seas, built at the turn of the century. As the crew was two men short, Albert gained a place on board and spent the next seven months sailing 'as they did in Colbert's day' - no electricity and just two buckets of fresh water per man per week. In between manning the rigging, he captured every instant of life on board, even in the roughest of seas.
From that moment on, Albert painted and drew everything that moved, from the firemen of Los Angeles to the feria in Seville, and, of course, a whole armada of ships. He became one of the Navy's official painters in 1936.
Albert thrilled to the sights of the Orient - the mosques of Iran, the souks of Tunisia - and was endlessly fascinated by the quality and continuity of Japanese civilization. Now enjoying a peaceful and well-deserved retirement south of Paris, Albert is the only artist ever to have been granted specialities in all three services - army, navy and air force.
Three exhibitions are being staged to mark Albert Brenet's hundredth birthday - in Perros-Guirec (Côtes-d'Armor), Le Havre and Paris, at the Musée de la Marine.
Taken from Normandie Magazine Summer 2003)