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A tidily dressed man, in Honfleur

Or, the passions of Fernand Herbo.

This post appeared in our original blog Honfleur Then and Now, in 2012.

la Lieutenance at the entrance to Honfleur's old port
Easy match! la Lieutenance at the entrance to Honfleur’s old port

Walking around Le Vieux Basin in Honfleur is often a chance to admire artists at work, as they endeavour to capture the shimmering light and remarkable landscape of this ancient port.  Today’s postcard is a particular favourite as we often see an artist on this exact spot under our apartment.

We are not 100% sure, but think this picture of a tidily dressed gentleman on our old postcard, with stylish artist’s beret and smart green jumper, may be a photo of Fernand Herbo.

Below is a photograph that is definitely of him, painting the entrance of Le Vieux Basin from Quai de la Quarantine.  There is not a lot of written information about Fernand available online, but plenty of evidence of his skill, passion and continued popularity in the many paintings that can be found online.

Artist Fernand Herbo
Artist Fernand Herbo

In love with Honfleur

Like us, Fernand fell wildly in love with Honfleur.  Born in the tranquil land locked town of Orchies on 28 March 1905, Fernand was unprepared for the emotions he experienced when he first visited this busy port in 1930.

The impact of Honfleur’s wall of high houses, marching like a fantastic wooden army along the Quai St Catherine under an unearthly coloured sky, moved him as he had never been moved before.

Harbour at Honfleur by Fernand Herbo
Harbour at Honfleur by Fernand Herbo

The daily drama of fishing boats, tiny against a shifting feckless sea, bravely sailing in all weathers impressed and absorbed him.  He was infatuated and devoted his life to Honfleur and the Estuary.

Perfect for pictures

At the top of one of the buildings along Quai St Catherine (or for the other side, along Rue de Dauphin, above Bistro Artistes) you can see the bank of windows belonging to Fernand’s studio.  He had a fabulous view of Le Basin and the Seine beyond.

Honfleur! Fernand's studio is third from the right, see the line of windows at the top? That;s it.
Honfleur! Fernand’s studio is third from the right, see the line of windows at the top? That’s it.

And the view from there is…

Painted by Fernand Herbo from his Honfleur studio
Painted by Fernand Herbo from his Honfleur studio

Famous Paris gallery owner Katia Granoff was an early and staunch admirer of his work and he regularly exhibited at her gallery in Honfleur.  She was also responsible in the 1950’s for reviving interest in Monet’s ‘unmarketable’ paintings of waterlilies, a lady with impeccable taste.

Marine by Fernand Herbo
Marine by Fernand Herbo


Fernand’s empathy for the those who live with a tumultuous sea was formally recognised in 1944 when the Navy appointed him Peintre Officiel de Marine (official painter of the Navy).

In 2007 Honfleur honoured him with his own Quai ‘Quai Fernand Herbo’!

Quai Herbo Fernand
Quai Fernand Herbo

After a productive and we hope a happy life Fernand Herbo died on 21 August 1995 in Honfleur.

By the artist Fernand Herbo
By the artist Fernand Herbo

*** Exciting news!***

A small and rather wonderful update has appeared in Ouest France on Fernand’s life in Honfleur, through a charming interview with his lovely wife Micheline.  We can only translated very roughly – below – apologies!

 Fernand Herbo painting near water – Honfleur

Monday, December 3, 2012

Micheline Herbo before the work of her husband
Micheline Herbo before the work of her husband

Micheline Herbo traces the life of her husband through his career as a painter in Montmartre, before anchoring in Honfleur.


“I lived in Paris. I painted and I was creating objects of fashion and jewellery. One day Fernand Herbo asked for a decorator to paint lithographs and I went to his studio. I learned about being a painter and his model and never left. ”

Fernand Herbo from a very young age had a passion for drawing, but his father wanted him to work in the railways like him.  Once at college, without saying anything to his family he changed his studies to design.

The Bar artists, painters discussion forum

“Fernand taught in various schools from the age of 20, and had a studio in Montmartre.  He made posters, theater and film sets.  I remember he painted Achilles Zavatta the clown who became a friend.  Fernand also met painters like Vlaminck and Friez and in 1938, Herbo went to paint Honfleur.”

In 1952 he opened a small coffee tobacco and fishing tackle bar, in Honfleur where he settled permanently, to receive his Parisian friends. The café overlooked the Old Basin and had a workshop on the top floor. It is among the oldest houses on the quay.

“Fernand Herbo painted everything that was near the water – lake, sea, pond … Regardless, he had to be near a body of water.  In 1954 he became an official painter of the Navy. ”

The artist’s bar became a meeting place for painters to discuss their work. Fernand Herbo enjoyed talking for hours.He created, in 1950, an exhibition of Honfleur artists.

More than a thousand works

“Then one day painting near Vasouy, he spotted a barn that belonged to Jean-Louis Barrault and Madeleine Renaud. Sheep were in it but he would do anything to acquire and transform it. We live there until his death. Fernand painted every day. He had to sign over 1,000 works and exhibited throughout France. ”

Paintings by Fernand Herbo are powerful, sometimes created from dark colours but always of natural beauty. His curiosity made him open to everything he saw.

Fernand Herbo died in 1995 and is buried in the small cemetery at Vasouy.

* * *

Thank you Micheline and Ouest France! 

We were very pleased to find some of Micheline’s own delightful illustrations online:

micheline-herbo-illustration-two-farmers micheline-herbo-illustration-couple-with-horse micheline-herbo-illustration-girl

Illustrations by Micheline Herbo

Finally, from Fernand

Now if we could just track down the painting in our old postcard, we would know if Fernand was indeed our tidily dressed man. But until then we finish with one of his moody, magnificent paintings of the Estuary at Honfleur.


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