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Lost Sirens of Carteret

It wasn’t a dragon that bought Adolphe La Lyre to the wild beaches of Carteret.  The old legend of Saint Germain Le Scot saving locals from an unwelcome serpent is often retold, but our postcard revealed a different story.

Wild beaches discovered

Grotto of the sirens, Carteret Normandy
After some rock climbing, a great match!

We did not know about the Atlantic beaches of the Manche when we drove through Carteret and along Rue du Cap, looking to match our postcard with a rocky outcrop on the map.

So it is not surprising that that after walking down through a thicket of berries and stunted apple trees, turning a corner to reveal miles upon miles of sand and sky, we were speechless.

We made our way across singing sands to the rocks and clambered over beds of of sharp blue muscles before waiting for the tide to go out a little.  One of us then clambering up the roches to get a perfect match for our postcard ‘Carteret, La grotte des Sirenes a Maree’ while the other admired purple anemones in crystal clear pools.

The old postcard was the only mention of ‘sirens’ at Carteret we could find, until we heard about a rather unfashionable artist called Adolphe La Lyre.

Adolphe discovered the beautiful sea at Carteret around 1870 and, then hugely successful, moved into a large home that become known after his most famous paintings as ‘the Castle of the Sirens’.  Adolphe was infatuated with these alluring and dangerous creatures.

La Lyre's very alluring sirens
La Lyre’s very alluring sirens

He painted his obsessions in a very precise and romantic style.  The dramatic rocks just north of Cartaret provided an ideal backdrop for his enchantresses; their delicate naked skin glowing, hair tumbling and nipples very proudly on show. Critics at the time mentions ‘redheads opulent with promising ridges’ and their ‘milky beauty’ as they writhe and twist in the waves.

Past glories 

During his lifetime Adolpe’s way with a curved hip and come-hither look was highly regarded.  He was received into the esteemed Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1875  then exhibited at the Salon of French artists every year between 1876 and 1929.  He won medals at the Paris Universal Exhibitions of 1889 and 1900.

So why did his art disappear?

A few short years after Adolphe moved to Carteret he was was seen as out of date, out of touch and even embarrassing.

Impressions of light, a world made of cubes and the trippy surrealists appealed more to the next few generations of artists than any romantic representations by M. La Lyre.   In his youth an artistic visionary, by the time Adolphe died in 1935 he had become a footnote.

His old home can still be seen on the corner of Route de la Corniche and Rue Franklin Bouillon, it’s medieval styled tower the only clue this used to be ‘Castle of the Sirens’.

La grotte des Sirens

Why our postcard is called ‘La grotte des Sirens’ we do not know.

Mussel beds Carteret Normandy
Mussel beds Carteret Normandy

Does Cartaret have a hidden history of mysterious sirens calling out hypnotically to befuddle sailors to their deaths?  Did Saint Germain Le Scot find an entirely different sort of danger in the rocks of Carteret?  Was Adolphe called to Cartaret by local legends too sensuous to be written down in public Victorian chronicles?

We do know that Adolphe’s art is remarkable as are the beaches in this unique part of France.  We hope you find time for both.

A vast and wild beach to the North of Carteret, below the ruined church of Saint-Germain-le-Scot.
A vast and wild beach to the North of Carteret, below the ruined church of Saint-Germain-le-Scot.

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