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On the Beach, Sunset, 1865
During the summer of 1865 Boudin worked on the Norman coast with Monet, Courbet, and Whistler. To what degree these encounters affected his new interest in painting on a horizontal format and, particularly, his absorption with the effects of the light of the setting sun, is an open question of influences and counterinfluences. However, it was at this point that he began a series of pictures of fashionable beaches, which he continued with great effec- tiveness for the remainder of the decade, depicting well-dressed, upper-class holidaymakers gathered in the last light of day on the beach at Trouville or Deauville. From about 1862, perhaps on the suggestion of Eugene Isabey, he had done beach scenes of these fishing villages, which had become hugely popular, with their race track, casino, and what was thought to be the most lovely sands in France. Visits by the Empress Eugenie and her court only heightened the rage for these towns, a point not lost on Boudin, who commented in 1863: "They love my little ladies on the beach, and some people say that there's a thread of gold to exploit there."
If he seems overly mercenary by this comment, it was a subject about which he was ambivalent. In August 1867, havingjust returned to the fashionable section of the coast, north of Le Havre, from the most isolated area—still the purview of pious peasants and fisher- men—farther down the coast, he wrote: "I have a confession to make. When I came back to . . . the beach at Trouville, which I used to find so delightful, ... [it] seemed nothing more than a frightful masquerade. One would have to be a near-genius to make anything of this troop of idle 'poseurs.' After spending a month among a breed of people doomed to the rough labour of the fields, to black bread and water, to see again this group of gilded parasites, with their haughty airs, makes me feel contempt and a degree of shame at painting such slothful idleness. Fortunately, dear friend, the Creator has spread a little of his splendid and warming light everywhere, and what I reproduce is not so much this world as the element that envelops it." The following year he would temper his rage at social inequities: "The peasants have their painters, Millet, Jacque, Breton; and that is a good thing Well and good: but, between you and me, the bourgeois, walking along the jetty towards the sunset, has just as much right to be caught on canvas, to be brought to the light They too are often resting after a day's hard work, these people who come out from their offices and from behind their desks. If there are a few parasites among them, aren't there also people who have carried out their allotted labour? There's a serious and irrefutable argument."
Here, any conflicts of conscience he may have felt later are put aside by his love for an enveloping light. In this painting of 1865, a dense crowd is pulled up nearly to the water's edge at dusk. A few swimmers remain in the sea, although the bathing wagons are now pulled back from the tide. Two little girls play at the right, while the two women under parasols seem more caught up by their conversation than by the grand effect of the sky. But the crowd to the left, the man in profile setting the mood, seems to have fallen silent, staring out to the horizon as if in anticipation of the shift from yellow to red that is about to take place as the sun meets the sea—in an effect of temporal progress that, as Baudelaire noted in 1859, Boudin had mastered completely. It is a more harmoniously composed picture than the previous one, more contained and reserved in color and more blended in execution. The heroic boldness of Courbet and the tonal subtleties of Whistler are not seen here, nor are the brilliant bravura brushstrokes of the young Monet. It is calmer, more tempered, and—for all his railing against the participants—wondrously kind and sympathetic to a mutual participation in the moment.
|Institution||The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
|Medium||Oil on wood|
38.1 x 58.4 cm