Michel Brosseau was born in Nantes, France, but has since moved to Bordeaux and has lived there for many years. Both cities are on the Atlantic coast of France and have rich maritime histories, highlighted by prosperous trade with the West Indies in the 18th century. “The scent of cocoa, vanilla, and cinnamon still vaguely hangs in these ports today,” says Brosseau. The French artist is known for his nautical paintings and draws inspiration from his childhood memories. “I strolled the docks between the sugar and rum warehouses,” he says. “And I think it’s this nostalgia for a traditional sea lifestyle that used to fascinate me and still does.”
Brosseau’s education is atypical for a painter—he studied political science as an undergraduate and received a master’s degree in law. Although he painted during and after his years at school, he worked as a journalist and a political activist upon graduating. He could not stay away from his true passion for long, however, and eventually returned to painting full time. From a young age, the sea captivated Brousseau. “My first paintings were devoted to maritime themes mixed with surrealism,” he says.
Paintings from his teenage years depict flying boats or parting waters, like the iconic scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 film “The Ten Commandments.” As Brosseau developed, his style moved closer to realism. His oil paintings have a distinct look—graphic and contemporary—that he uses to explore the philosophical implications of marine life. “The fascinating part of the sea is that it’s a total and paradoxical universe,” Brosseau says. “There is always the fascination with going out to sea and the anticipation of returning to port.”
While his style is consistent, Brosseau experiments with different techniques and themes. He rarely paints open seascapes and his canvases frequently include animate and inanimate symbols of the nautical world—toiling sailors, faded buoys with chipped paint, weather-battered rowboats. “Maybe I prefer the maritime places, objects, and artifacts of the sea culture to the sea itself because I can tame and control them,” Brosseau says. At the heart of his work is an awareness of the austerity of life—at sea and ashore—and the different ways humanity reacts to nature.