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Description: Impressionism: Art, Leisure, and Parisian Society
The same forces that transformed the suburbs of Paris were also at work along the English Channel. Vacationers, ostensibly seeking nature, poured into fishing villages and larger ports in such numbers that traditional life there was forever altered. “Bathing” along the Channel meant the encounter of two peoples, both undergoing fateful changes: the...
PublisherYale University Press
Related print edition pages: pp.265-306
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7. At the Seaside
[Sainte-Adresse:] … there reigns here still all the seductions of solitude, of silence, and of oceanic contemplation, although for a few years now the little houses, the taverns, the kiosks, and the pavilions multiply themselves in this delicious valley, preparing somehow, thanks to brick and stone, the hour of its imminent transformation.
—Eugène Chapus, 1855
[Trouville:] It’s the rendez-vous of sick people who are well, it is Paris, with its qualities, its foibles, and its vices, transported for two or three months to the edge of the ocean.
—Adolphe Joanne, 1867
[Trouville:] The artists’ excursions will one day be very profitable, because they know how to look, they do; they store up excellent materials in their memories.
—Henri Létang, 1868
[Etretat:] … Parisian painters came to ask the beautiful cliffs of Etretat for inspiration and points of view which, reproduced on canvas, exhibited in our museums, bought by these too rare Maecenases who voluntarily exchange their gold for artistic works, carried far and wide the fame of these natural and splendid illustrations.
—J. Morlent, 1853
Description: The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, detail by Monet, Claude
267. Monet, detail of The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (Pl. 295).
The same forces that transformed the suburbs of Paris were also at work along the English Channel. Vacationers, ostensibly seeking nature, poured into fishing villages and larger ports in such numbers that traditional life there was forever altered. “Bathing” along the Channel meant the encounter of two peoples, both undergoing fateful changes: the leisure-seekers, mostly from Paris, and the locals, metamorphosed from fisherfolk into a servant class or into shopkeepers supplying the newcomers. A number of the natives retained their traditional costumes and became living illustrations, so that visitors could find the picturesque life that proved their distance from home. The confrontation of residents and visitors is the subject of numerous contemporary caricatures and illustrations. An anonymous engraving of 1866 (Pl. 268) shows an undeveloped stretch of shore near Boulogne. Several fisherwomen look at one of their number, who poses for an artist, probably for a modest fee. The draughtsman, in middle-class costume save for his mariner’s hat, has unpacked part of the traveling kit that identifies him as a professional. Two well-dressed women and a child look over his shoulder and that of a prosperous older man, who perches his boater jauntily on the tip of his walking stick. Like some Mr. Cheeryble out of Dickens, he is reaching into his pocket for a few coins to give to the three local children who are begging. The vacationers may be a family group, but then again they may not, since tourists were thrown together during vacations without the reserve that kept them apart in their cities. This lowering of barriers was, in fact, one of the attractions of vacation resorts. Faced with quaint natives and a different landscape, they were drawn together because they shared their distinctiveness as strangers and as members of the leisured class. The otherness of the natives was essential to this feeling: it was the means of defining one’s class. In the engraving, we can imagine the sense of well-being among the visitors as they stare at the locals. Giving alms confirms one’s high morals and social standing, and drawing the natives is a proof of selfless, serious interest (although it is also an appropriation: the artist sells his work).
Description: Sea Bathing at Boulogne, The Shrimp Woman by Unknown
268. Sea Bathing at Boulogne, The Shrimp Woman, 1866. Unsigned engraving. Photograph Roger Viollet.
The dialogue of vacationers with the local setting was an intermittent one, and the institutions of seacoast leisure allowed them to retreat into their own society. After a stroll beyond the resort out among fishing people and seaweed-covered rocks, they would return to their own kind in the hotels, casinos, and rented rooms. Alfred Stevens, the witty Belgian painter established in Paris (he moved in Manet’s circles), treated this society in his Trouville (Pl. 269). No natives appear, nor does the beach. Against the backdrop of a sunny Channel, with its symbolic steamer and small sailboat, nine women, a child, two lap dogs, and two men lounge on a hotel porch. The preponderance of women was normal. They and their children stayed for several weeks at the shore, but often their husbands accompanied them only on holidays and Sundays, returning to work during the week (the Monday morning train to Paris was called the “cuckolds’ train”). One man holds two women in conversation, while another looks towards a woman mounting the steps. She seems to know the woman who leans on the railing, having temporarily abandoned her fashionable Japanese parasol and her jacket. Further back two pairs of women read or chat, while in the foreground a mother knits near her daughter. The child displays her age in that marvelously awkward pose. She is perhaps emulating the natives by working on a net; in any case, she wields her bobbin to make a net-like fabric. The abandoned book and the folding chairs are appropriate to the mixture of transiency and lassitude that characterizes so many moments of a vacationer’s stay.
Description: Trouville by Stevens, Alfred
269. Alfred Stevens, Trouville, c. 1880–85. 68 × 91.5 cm. Collection unknown.
To Stevens’s hotel society and to the engraver’s encounter of fisherwomen and sightseers we should add a third image if we want to see more of the activity of seaside visitors. In Eugène Boudin’s The Beach at Trouville (Pl. 270), the resort guests are out on the beach, near the portable bathing huts. In contrast to Stevens’s fenced-off guests, who pay scant attention to sea or beach, Boudin’s figures are saturated in moist sunlight. They are the same people who at other moments will lounge on a hotel veranda or walk out beyond the town to see the local sights. Here, the expanse of beach, water, and sky is more than a mere stage for their activities, it is the natural realm they have come to enjoy, and it almost overwhelms them with its vastness. Of course “natural” needs qualification. The view is certainly not that of untouched nature (and none of the natural, local inhabitants are seen). We look across the broad estuarial bay of the Seine, towards Le Havre. A two-masted ship is partly obscured by the smoke from a steamer (sign of commercial enterprise and not of pollution, as our late-twentieth-century eyes might have it). This prominent plume, echoed by a thinner one off in the left distance, gives us a sense of the wind, and also figures the immensity of the sky.
Description: The Beach at Trouville by Boudin, Eugène
270. Boudin, The Beach at Trouville, 1868. Panel, 21.5 × 35 cm. Private collection. Photograph courtesy of Robert Schmit.
The Channel coast was indeed far from the banks of the Seine, and in this open bay we are very distant from the enclosed space of the Grenouillère as it appears in Monet’s and Renoir’s paintings of the following year (Pls. 211, 215). The organization of Boudin’s picture is correspondingly different. He places his figures in horizontal clumps that add to the feeling of expanse provided by the broad bands of beach, water, and sky. Our eye sweeps in from the left, that is, from the sea, and encounters progressively more solid knots of people. Five people stand together on the left, a man talking to two women who share a parasol, and two women who look towards a gaggle of bathers in the surf. Near us a woman and child sit among scattered rush chairs and gaze out at the bathers and the ships. This off-center axis—woman and child, bathers, and ships—is the principal foil for the dominant horizontals. Just to the right of center is a larger group, standing near the huts, their individuality lost in the strong light and its reflections. Further to the right sits a single woman, prominent in her red jacket; she leads us to the largest cluster, rendered in just enough detail to give a hint of the very full and fashionable garments habitually worn at the beach.
These three images, Boudin’s, Stevens’s, and the engraver’s, do not represent different kinds of vacationers, but different moments in the same persons’ lives. To take the sea air, to bathe, to watch the evening sunsets over the ocean were part of every day’s activity; to gather on porches and in dining rooms was another vacation practice; to stroll out to nearby promontories or quaint villages was a common distraction. It was a fruitful syndrome whose varied preoccupations fulfilled different but compatible aspects of one’s being. Bathing benefited the body, and taking in the salty air, the lungs; both were nature’s restoratives, and so was the mere contemplation of the sunset. Yet these were also occasions for displaying clothing and for socializing, and therefore not divorced from promenading or dining. As for visiting the local sights, that was, like the concerts and the plays, a proof of being cultured, of doing something more than merely indulging in healthful leisure. Guide books catered to all three kinds of activity by describing the beaches and their bathing centers, the accommodations, and the charming thatched cottage or picturesque old church in the vicinity. A history lesson was offered in the latter case, so education and tourism merged with “bathing.”
From the vantage point of the bathers, there was nothing amiss in this enjoyment of the seacoast. From that of the natives, however, things would have looked differently, although they had few spokespersons to articulate their dilemma. We do get a glimpse, although not a clear one, of the confrontation of cultures in the life and work of Boudin. For him, painting the tourists was not the same as for Stevens, who came from Paris along with them and was very much part of their society. Boudin was a native of Honfleur, the son of a mariner, and he spent his entire life painting the seacoasts of France. His youth and early adulthood along the Seine estuary coincided with the rise of tourism, and he was disturbed by the clash of the vacationers with the society of fishermen, sailors, and coastal villagers he knew intimately. In 1867, after returning to Trouville from several weeks in Brittany, he wrote to a friend:
Should I confess it? This beach at Trouville which used to be my delight, now, since my return, seems like a frightful masquerade. One would have to be a genius to make something of this bunch of do-nothing poseurs. When you’ve just spent a month among people devoted to the rough work of the fields, to black bread and water, and then you see again this bunch of gilded parasites who have so triumphant an air, it strikes you as pitiable and you feel a certain shame in painting such idle laziness. Fortunately, dear friend, the Creator has spread out everywhere his splendid and warming light, and it is less this society that we reproduce than the element which envelops it.
In his last phrase lay one solution to his dilemma, the conviction that he was painting light and color more than the “gilded parasites.” Another solution appeared in a letter written a year later:
Peasants have their painters of predilection: Millet, Jacque, Breton…. That’s good, but between us, these bourgeois who promenade along the pier towards sunset, don’t they have the right to be fixed on canvas, to be led towards the light? Between us, they are often resting from hard labor, these people who come from their offices and their studies. If there are some parasites among them, aren’t there also some who have fulfilled their tasks?1 Letters of 28 August 1867 and 3 September 1868 to his friend Martin, in Jean-Aubry 1968, pp. 65, 72. Boudin underlined the key phrase: “d’être amenés à la lumière.”
Both statements nonetheless reveal Boudin’s uneasiness in painting vacationers. He could not quite overcome a discomfort at the clash of old and new, although it was the new that provided his market. He restored himself periodically by painting peasants (Pl. 271), washerwomen, and fishermen (he also painted seascapes and harbor views), yet the two worlds seldom met on a single canvas. But then, we know that their separation was the truth of life in seaside resorts.
Description: Pardon in Finistère by Boudin, Eugène
271. Boudin, Breton Pardon, 1865. Panel, 41 × 32 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon.
From Paris to the English Channel
The origins of the seaside resort are found in the habits of the wealthy who, since Roman times, had sought distraction and health by quitting the cities for thermal centers. Until the Second Empire, the French had had no equivalent to Baden-Baden, Spa, or Bath, but they made up for that after 1850 by developing Vichy, inland, and a number of resorts along the coast. From the older spas came the idea of health-giving waters, and the seaside bathing centers at first emphasized hydrotherapy. Learned medical men wrote treatises on the virtues of the salt and iodine in sea water and sea air, and social reformers claimed that city life required the periodic cleansing of lungs and body that the seashore provided (for those who could afford it). The famous Jules Michelet devoted the last quarter of his book of 1861, La Mer, to the beneficial effects of seashore bathing, despite his horror of resort honky-tonk. Bathers immersed themselves (women, often, with the aid of male instructors) to absorb the water, more than to swim. There were indoor pools, both salt and fresh, some of them heated, to complement the sea. Bare-skinned hedonism and widespread swimming became common only at the end of the century, for in mid-century one wore substantial garments while bathing, partly from modesty, partly to guard against the sun. On shore, very full clothing was worn, and women used parasols to shield themselves from the sun. White skin was a sign of a pampered life and distinguished one from the lower classes whose weathered skin bespoke their working condition.
The bathing resorts along the northern coast, so characteristic of the Second Empire, developed in remarkably short time. Most of them were still fishing ports in the 1830s. To certain villages such as Sainte-Adresse or Trouville (Pl. 272), a few well-to-do residents of Paris, Le Havre, or Rouen (and also many from Britain), emulating the aristocracy of old, would come for a few weeks to take the sea air. Artists and writers would also come, and their work spread knowledge of these still unspoiled places. Then fishing cottages would take in lodgers, seaside taverns would become restaurants, bathing tents would turn into casinos, irregular paths into boardwalks, and soon hotels and costly villas would take over the seafront. After mid-century, other municipalities, not “discovered” by writers or painters, would see the rising fortunes of their neighbors and would build casinos and hotels to lure vacationers. Because, land values rose rapidly, fishing families and small shopkeepers were displaced by entrepreneurs, increasingly backed by speculators from Paris (when not Parisians themselves). The proportion of local residents diminished, and the lives of those who remained were changed. Fishermen became swimming instructors, hauled portable bathing huts along the beach, and rowed vacationers about; their wives and daughters took in laundry or worked in the new hotels and casinos. Parisians, who dominated the ranks of vacationers after 1850, could indeed smell the sea air, but the “fishing village” and its people had turned into a resort, a vast service industry in which the residential population cared for visitors who outnumbered them five or six to one.
Description: The Seine Estuary by Bineteau, P.
272. P. Bineteau, Map of the Seine Estuary. Engraving from Constant De Tours, Du Havre à Cherbourg, c. 1890, p. 37.
For many vacationers, if not most, bathing was an excuse to partake in a select society devoted to leisure and self-display. From the thermal centers the coastal resorts adopted the varied institutions that catered to the habits of high society. In addition to one or more buildings that housed pools, changing rooms, and the like, a gaming casino was de rigueur, usually a central one regulated by the municipality. The casino and the larger hotels provided various rooms for gambling, billiards, cardplaying (whist was popular), and reading, a nursery, an indoor and an outdoor café, a more formal restaurant, a dance hall, a small theater, and a concert hall (these latter often used one room, rearranged for the different functions). Costumes were correspondingly varied, especially for women, and were frequently changed, to the amusement or dismay of some visitors.
Municipal governments, eager to raise income, and private entrepreneurs took advantage of the vacationers’ idle hours. There were seaside versions of Parisian cafés-concerts, for example. By the late 1870s the Alcazar had its troupe at Trouville, and the Eldorado, at Deauville. The city fathers and the managers of casinos and hotels also catered to families. For further distraction they organized regattas, occasional horse races and polo matches (often conducted on the beach), pony rides, magicians’ shows, and children’s theater. There were even provisions for the ubiquitous lap dogs that guests brought with them. By the early 1870s at Deauville there was a clinic for ill dogs, and it sold “antiseptic and perfumed soaps for apartment dogs.”2 Désert 1983, p. 160.
The casinos and the fancier hotels, emulating the spas, treated their guests as members of a private club, a comfort to those who feared upstarts with money but without “class.” A portion of the beach was reserved for each hotel willing to pay the municipal fees, a further device to keep strangers together as a “club.” To confirm this replication of earlier patrician privilege, each casino and bathing center had aristocrats on its governing board and published seasonal lists of its guests (usually called abonnés notables [notable subscribers]). The list for Trouville’s casino in 1865 included seventy-two persons, among them three dukes and duchesses, five princes and princesses, eleven counts and countesses, seven barons and baronesses, and five marquis and marquises. Among them were some of the leading socialites of Paris, the prince and princesse de Metternich, prince and princesse Poniatowski, comte and comtesse d’Hautpoul, the duchesse de Morny, and the notable art collectors prince Demidoff and the comte and comtesse de Pourtalès. Perrin, the director of the Opéra, and the sculptor Montier were among the noteworthy commoners.3 Guide annuaire 1868, p. 70.
The seaside resorts also disseminated lists of foreign guests, because a cosmopolitan clientèle, echoing the society of Paris, was a proof of quality. British vacationers were especially numerous, not only because it was easy to cross the Channel, but also because they resided in large numbers in Normandy. In fact, the prominence of the British in France was a significant factor in the preeminence of Channel resorts. Since the 1820s the British had been major investors in French industry and commerce, and they had established a particularly strong presence in northern France. All the railroads north from Paris, laid out before 1848, were designed and built by the British, who set up locomotive works in Rouen, and who brought over 5,000 construction workers from Britain. They also had an immense influence on French agriculture and animal husbandry, from selective breeding of animals to methods of drainage. As manufacturers, agents, and salesmen, as purchasers of Norman dairy products, cloth, and seafood, as sellers of all manner of finished products, the British were prominent in every major city in the north of France. Murray’s guide of 1848 listed 66,000 English residents in France, and twenty-five towns in which English church services were held.4 Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in France (London, 1848). There were so many in Ingouville, the suburb of Le Havre that led to Sainte-Adresse, that it was dubbed “la ville anglaise.”
British customs relating to boating and horses, already mentioned in connection with Paris and the suburbs, also affected the Channel resorts. Brighton, famous well before any of the French resorts, was the social model for many municipalities as they developed their bathing centers. The rapidly expanding Trouville of 1855 was called “a bourgeois Brighton, pretty, cute” by the writer Chapus; he used the word “bourgeois” because he was aware of the aristocratic origins of the British resort.5 Chapus 1855, p. 262. An “English garden” was the staple of many of these replanned villages and small cities, and the word “cottage” was the second only to “villa” as the name for the new summer homes that sprang up everywhere. Almost every port had its “Victoria Cottage,” its “Clover Cottage,” and its “Elisabeth Cottage.” The pretentious and eclectic private villas, likened by Chapus to overly loud parrots, had their “Renaissance-Elisabeth” libraries to keep pace with their Louis XIII dining rooms, and in the public reading rooms of hotels and casinos, “keepsakers” and British journals were commonly found.
Important though the British were, it was the Parisians who actually dominated the seaside resorts. Brighton was evoked for its social tone, but the planners looked towards the formal arrangements of Haussmann’s Paris as they laid out their new cities. The new streets and squares were a great contrast to the old Norman villages and were described in Parisian terms: allées, boulevards, squares (a term long in use in the capital), jardins. The new plan for Houlgate in 1863 included a little “Bois de Boulogne.” Although local entrepreneurs were usually involved, Paris supplied many of the architects, most of the money, and most of the purchasers of the new villas. From 1859 to 1877, twenty-four of twenty-nine owners of newly constructed houses at Houlgate were Parisians.6 Rouillard 1984, pp. 30, 97, 343–44, and passim. It would be difficult to overpraise this excellent book. It was the railroads that permitted this colonization of the coast, and one can follow the spread of the resorts, in part, by tracing the routes of the rail lines from Paris. The railroads collaborated with the coastal developers by offering excursion tickets and special trains, and they advertised resort seasons in all major media, including their own railway guides.
Artists and Entrepreneurs
Katherine Macquoid, introducing Trouville to her readers in 1874, remarked that
she is very young for a town, only forty years old, and, like Etretat, she has sprung out of the sea at the fiat of artists, both painters and writers. Trouville was a mere fishing-village when M. Isabey began to paint and Alexandre Dumas to describe her….7 Macquoid 1895, p. 316 (written in 1874).
She was pointing out the commonly known fact that it was painters and writers who put most of the seaside resorts on the map. Alphonse Karr’s writings were credited with popularizing Sainte-Adresse and Etretat (both villages eventually named streets after him), while the coast near Le Havre, from Trouville and Honfleur over to Sainte-Adresse, had been recorded first by British artists in the 1820s and 1830s, then by Charles Mozin, Isabey, Daubigny, Jongkind, and L. A. Dubourg in the following decades. Unlike the texts and illustrations commissioned for guide books, these writings and paintings did not smack of public relations. It was perhaps their very disinterestedness that contributed to their influence. Parisians could imagine “discovering” Sainte-Adresse or Etretat by admiring Karr’s essays and novels, or Mozin’s paintings. When they then went to these villages they were consciously following in the footsteps of artists who, like Karr and Monet, wore mariners’ clothing, which allowed them to be partly assimilated with the natives.
Guide books often held out hope of seeing notable artists by pointing out their residences or their favored haunts. In Etretat one could hope to see Maupassant, and it was easy to station oneself near Offenbach’s “Villa Orphée” (built there with the proceeds from Orpheus in Hell). A promotional guide to Trouville, Deauville, and their environs headed one chapter “Causerie, Aux Artistes” (Little Chat, To Artists); the heading was surmounted by a vignette that pictured a sylvan glade complete with brook, deer, and herons. The “chat” begins by invoking not professional artists, but the artistic spirit in everyone:
Oh all of you! You who are fortunate enough to dispose of your time for a month or two, as you wish; you who are not enslaved by the demands of a mediocre administration, who do not possess a numerous family, always difficult to transport; profit from the beautiful season. Here you will have your eyes and lungs refreshed by a splendid, generous, and calm nature, a real countryside.
The author follows the “countryside” with promises of beautiful women, luxurious accommodations, bathing, and suggests that, then, when tired of that, one take
the charming walk to Hennequeville. What freshness, what a perfumed route! How the fields are green, how the trees are beautiful. What a beautiful row of elder trees through which you see the sea, calm, beautiful, transparent….
He then imagines cows peacefully grazing and asks the reader to conjure up a bronzed young man:
It’s all the same to you, isn’t it, if he’s bronzed? With the straw hat and the grey coat of the artist. I don’t ask him to be remarkably handsome like the hero of a novel, but I require him to have heart, spirit, imagination, and as for his beard, he can wear it as he wishes, I won’t impose anything on him.8 Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 109–11.
Artists were truly intermediaries between the villagers and the tourists. They were the interpreters of local landscapes (from which they eliminated the tawdry), the providers of images that were in the visitors’ minds when they arrived at the shore. In the engraving of 1866 (Pl. 268), it is the artist around whom the action revolves. Remove him, and the fisherwomen would not remain there, the tourists would not have this human buffer between themselves and the natives. Of course, once the crowds came, the artists moved on to less peopled places. The tourists who liked to feel they were the only ones to savor a site would again follow in their wake, and the “discovery” process would begin all over again.
Nearly every guide and travel book after 1858 began its capsule histories of seaside resorts, as did Macquoid, by paying homage to the artist-discoverer. The mythic stature of the artist had arisen in the romantic era, when writers brought back poems from rocky escarpments in the Auvergne or primitive villages in Brittany, and bearded painters settled in fishing villages or hiked into forests clad in rough clothes, a rucksack on their backs. It was a functional myth for tourism and bathing, since it supplied welcome qualities of poetry, the healthy outdoors, and vagabondage, in short, freedom from urban confinement. In its article of 1844 devoted to “Sea Bathing at Trouville,” L’Illustration used two engravings. One showed the then sparsely tenanted beach (one can imagine a Paris entrepreneur saying “Now there’s a good investment! Look at those open spaces!”), and the other, “the house of M. Mozin at Trouville.” It no longer seemed surprising that an artist’s house was the featured vignette in such an article, and the accompanying text gave it more words than any other. The first two homes mentioned were those of comte d’Hautpoul and of the marquis de Rouzan, then came Mozin’s,
which has the form of an old manor house. M. Mozin has a delicious studio that overlooks the sea, and furnished in a most original fashion. Certainly he always works after nature; the ocean is there before his eyes, calm or riled up, and he has only to draw his curtains aside to have his model.9 Reproduced in Rouillard 1984, p. 43.
If we are inclined to think of Claude Monet when we read those words, it is because impressionist landscape painters built upon the nature worship of Mozin’s generation. For many artists it was no longer the city, nor neo-classical architecture, but out-of-the-way, “natural” places, and picturesque gothic architecture, that were worthy of painting.
Artists were not the only intermediaries between nature and the tourists, it is true. Before the crowds could come, entrepreneurs had to step in as developers to provide the bathing centers, lodgings, and transport. They were often among the cultured élite who were up with the latest paintings and writings, and were the first to follow in the artists’ wake. As builders of the new society, they were not much beholden to old traditions and shared something of the artist’s creativity, his spirit of discovery.10 Rouillard 1984, pp. 56–63, and passim. Sometimes artists were among the entrepreneurs: Charles Mozin at Trouville, Jollivet at Deauville, Jouvet at Houlgate, or Félix Pigeory at Villers-sur-Mer, but usually big money was involved, and speculators banded together in entrepreneurial societies, backed by Paris banks. At first they, too, had sought only health and tranquility away from the city, but soon they played host to other Parisians and gradually reconstituted a Parisian society on the shore. It was then that their business sense took over, and they began to “modernize” the fishing villages. They justified their colonization of the coast as Europeans had justified taking over Indian lands in America: they were making progressive use of underpopulated lands which the natives did not manage advantageously.11 Another of Rouillard’s perspicacious observations.
Deauville was the most remarkable of the newly developed Channel resorts, and it was entirely the work of Parisians; furthermore, Parisians of a particular Second Empire type. In 1850, Deauville was a dying fishing village above the shifting sands across the Touques river from Trouville. Dr. Joseph Olliffe (self-styled “Sir Joseph”), a wealthy British emigré living in Paris, had visited Trouville often and had cast his eye on those shifting sands. He was, among other things, a quack, but nonetheless the official doctor for the British Embassy in Paris and private physician to the duc de Morny. He was a skilled agent in improvement, having made his fortune chiefly on a medicine for women based on small doses of arsenic. It had the immediate benefit of improving their complexions; its more iniquitous long-term results were not discovered until the good doctor’s fortune was secure. To create a French Baden-Baden, Olliffe needed money and influence. In 1859 he formed a syndicate, the money coming from the banker and diplomat Armand Donon, the influence from Morny, who had been a regular visitor to Trouville. They bought the dunes and, beginning in 1861, spent a fortune to level and consolidate the sands. Thanks to Morny, the state judged it in its interest to assist in the extensive diking and dredging of the Touques to create a yacht basin, and a bridge was built across the river to Trouville. The new city was rapidly laid out, with both Anglican and Catholic churches, and with broad avenues reminiscent of the new residential quarters in Paris. The permanent population went from 113 in 1850, to 1,150 in 1866, augmented by summer visitors. Two hundred and fifty villas were built in three years.12 Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 49–50. Morny’s was in Renaissance style (in Plate 273 it is the one with twin-peaked towers, left of center); Olliffe’s was in “Anglo-Saxon” and called “Victoria Lodge;” Donon’s was “le pavillon Elisabeth.” The essential aristocrats were lured to the new resort (the comte de Choiseul, prince Demidoff…), and their presence helped sell the syndicate’s villas to monied commoners.
Description: View of Deauville by Lemaître, Augustin-François
273. Augustin-François Lemaître, View of Deauville, 1864. Lithograph. Musée de Trouville.
In 1863, Morny inaugurated the new railroad line that came to Deauville (not to Trouville) thanks to his influence. The following year, Morny, “this indefatigable sportsman, so well known among Parisian turfists,” as one guide put it,13 Guide annuaire 1868, p. 53. opened the new racetrack at Deauville. He won official support for it on the grounds that there was no other distinguished racing season in France during the month of August, and it would lure tourists away from Baden-Baden. He succeeded, and later guides could boast of the important high life during August, when Deauville became “the rendez-vous of all the aristocracies, among others, the Jockey-Club.”14 Album-guide 1881, p. 64. Boudin made a spirited sheet of studies of the new racetrack in 1866 (Pl. 274). Deauville was soon called the “faubourg Saint-Germain” of Trouville, a reference to the elegant residential quarter of Paris, for commerce was largely excluded from the new resort, and Trouville was treated as a dependency, providing domestic help and the supplies and services that one’s own household could not manage.
Description: The Racetrack at Deauville by Boudin, Eugène
274. Eugène Boudin, The Racetrack at Deauville, 1866. Watercolor, 20.3 × 31.1 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon.
The upper-class elegance of Deauville could not quite disguise the new money involved. The guide of 1868, already cited, made a frank appeal to
Messieurs the French speculators, stockbrokers, manufacturers, businessmen, etc., who wish to make a fecund and honorable enterprise, bring the cooperation of your capital and your intelligence…15 Guide annuaire 1868, p. 37, written in 1866.
The same guide reveals two interesting features of this nouveau-riche society. The city government consisted of ten men, among them the architect Breney, who built many of the villas, the painter Jollivet, the writer Crémieux, the manufacturer Arthus, an entrepreneur, a notary, a head foreman, and a farmer. These were middle-class men who effectively used the princes and countesses to embellish their casino list. Furthermore, some of the city fathers and some of the aristocrats were not above overt speculation. Arthus had a seafront villa, but also another on a side street which he rented; prince Poniatowski had no fewer than three villas for rent.16 Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 103–106.
Although artists had not first “discovered” Deauville, they soon found their way there and contributed to its reputation. The most notable of the artist-visitors was Courbet, who spent a month there in 1866, in circumstances that reveal the benefits of enlightened patronage. This most controversial of living artists, self-proclaimed socialist, prickly burr under the saddle of clergy and government, was the guest of the comte de Choiseul. Courbet had spent three months at Trouville in 1865, and he boasted not only of the many seascapes he had done, but also of the portraits of society women, including that of the princesse Karolyi. Choiseul bought seascapes from him that winter, and Courbet accepted his invitation for a month’s stay at Deauville in 1866. His letters reveal how pleased he was with the count’s luxurious villa and with his society. He was also pleased with his pedigree greyhounds, which he painted against the backdrop of the Channel. It was at the count’s behest that he invited there both Boudin and Monet. Choiseul seems to have collected artists, as well as their paintings, to ornament his new villa. Guests and setting were alike proofs of his advanced ideas. As for Courbet, the paintings he did at Trouville and Deauville encompass the whole range of a vacationer’s interests: seascapes, one bathing picture (a woman in the surf on a curious “podoscaphe”), numerous society portraits, and a native fisherwoman with dead seagulls over her shoulder (Pl. 275). She would never be confused with the princesse Karolyi, but she shared space with her on the artist’s easel, for, along with splendid sunsets over the water, she was, like the native woman in the Boulogne print (Pl. 268), part of the vision of a Parisian in search of motifs at the seaside.
Description: Woman with Seagulls by Courbet, Gustave
275. Gustave Courbet, Woman with Seagulls, 1865. 81 × 65 cm. Private collection. Photograph courtesy of Brooklyn Museum.
Manet at the Seashore
Manet’s first paintings along the Channel coast were several marines done at Boulogne in the summer of 1864. He visited Trouville briefly in August 1867, but did not paint there. It was not until 1869, when he and his family spent the summer at Boulogne, that he undertook a series of pictures that interpret the activities and the preferred views of vacationers. Unlike Courbet, he had no prospective clients at his elbow (he first sold some of the Boulogne pictures to the dealer Durand-Ruel in 1872), but the seaport logically entered the canvassing of modern life to which he was dedicating himself. Like other well-to-do Parisians, he often took his family to the seaside. They had spent the previous summer at Boulogne, but he seems not to have painted the coast then and absented himself often, like other professional men, with trips to London, to Le Havre, and several to Paris. Settled in Boulogne for most of the summer of 1869, he did six pictures. Together with the earlier Boulogne marines, these were his only landscapes outside Paris in the 1860s, proof of the significance of Channel resorts in drawing Parisians away for the summer.
One of the paintings of 1869, Moonlight over Boulogne Harbor (Pl. 276) is what one might have expected from an artist of the prior generation, were it not for its spirited shorthand. From a sky streaked in clouds and dotted with stars, a full moon casts its blanched light over fishing boats that have just brought in their catch, awaited by a cluster of women in Norman bonnets. It is the kind of local life that guide books urged tourists to witness, and indeed such scenes were essential to the sense of being away from home. Another of the paintings, The Pier at Boulogne (Pl. 277), gives an altogether different impression. Instead of the “pure” tourist’s view of a local event (no vacationer is shown in the nighttime picture), we are looking over at other vacationers. Through a misty but bright morning light we see two parallel jetties, so close together as to hide the narrow seaway between them, where a fishing boat is slowly making way; to the left appears the bowsprit of another departing boat. On the far jetty two men and a couple, the woman with her parasol raised, look out at three ships under sail. Two of them have the rigging of commercial ships, the central one might be a pleasure boat. On the near jetty, to the left, a man in dark clothes, possibly a mariner, has applied a telescope to his eye; to the right, a woman and a boy stare down towards the buoy on which the artist signed his name. In the center, seven or eight people, apparently a mixture of tourists and natives, hover over the fishing boat. The light streak of the second railing keeps them on the jetty, but even so, they are amusingly assimilated with the boat. It appears to be too far down in the channel (the bowsprit of the other boat floats at the expected level), and may be the result of an observation taken at low tide and then joined to the rest of the picture. The effect is to puzzle us slightly but also to activate the remarkably flattened planes that make this such a striking composition. Many of Boudin’s seacoast pictures consist of horizontal bands, also, but his objects and figures observe the locations and proportions of conventional perspective.
Description: Moonlight over Boulogne Harbor by Manet, Edouard
276. Manet, Moonlight over Boulogne Harbor, 1869. 82 × 101 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
Description: The Pier at Boulogne by Manet, Edouard
277. Manet, The Pier at Boulogne, 1869. 60 × 73 cm. Private collection.
Equally modern is The Departure of the Folkestone Boat (Pl. 278). On a sunny morning, a crowd has gathered around a steamer. Some are presumably waiting to board, while others, nearer us, may be seeing them off or merely taking in the event. No figure is rendered in detail, but Manet’s flowing outlines and bright colors, which have the quickness of his View of the Paris World’s Fair of two years earlier (Pl. 7), convey the richness of vacationers’ costumes. At the stern of the ship one mariner handles the wheel (the ship might be docking, not departing), while another gesticulates on the far side of the piles of baggage. To the right stand three seamen between the paddle-boxes and the smokestacks, resplendent in their white and black. The uppermost seaman points, perhaps to aid the manoeuvering of the steamer. Simple though his gesture is, it helps give him a commanding presence over the crowd below. Beyond are several ships, including a two-master at anchor and a smaller ship under sail, and then the chalk cliffs which characterize Boulogne, as well as Dover or Folkestone.
Description: The Folkestone Boat, Boulogne by Manet, Edouard
278. Manet, The Departure of the Folkestone Boat, 1869. 60 × 73.5 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Where the moonlit picture was all native, this painting is all tourist, or nearly so. It requires both kinds to have a truthful idea of Boulogne, which for centuries had been a principal port of entry and exit along the Channel; for long periods it had belonged to the British. The comings and goings of the steamer to England were held out by guide books as a lively amusement for vacationers, who had so much time on their hands. That this was a conventional idea is proved by Chapus’s guide book of 1855, whose vignette introducing the chapter on the environs of Rouen (Pl. 279) shows a similar packet about to depart. Manet need not have seen this vignette, but when he turned towards this episode of modern life he was taking up a motif that had first been established in journalistic illustrations. His painting of the harbor by night instead evoked the traditions of the fine arts: romantic seascapes and Dutch nocturnal scenes. It was the one he chose to exhibit in the Brussels Salon that very summer upon the urging of Alfred Stevens and was by far the largest of the Boulogne group. It therefore had the ambition and the relative conservatism of a work destined for public viewing, whereas the painting of the steamer fits into a more daring category.
Description: The Quai at Rouen by Unknown
279. The Quai at Rouen. Unsigned engraving from Eugène Chapus, De Paris au Havre, 1855, p. 119.
The Departure of the Folkestone Boat was Manet’s response to the vitality of the present day and was the current in his art that ran increasingly strongly until, after the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, it triumphed decisively over the artist’s preoccupation with the grand manner. In another of his Boulogne canvases, we can sense both currents at work. On the Beach at Boulogne (Pl. 280) is an aspect of contemporary life at the seashore, but its organization has the stiffness of a studio painting. Only two men are shown (it is probably a weekday), an overlarge vacationer with parasol aloft, on the right, and an employee who hauls a private cabin ashore. The other figures are women and children, unless the black-robed figure right of center is a Franciscan (confessors were known sometimes to accompany their penitents to the shore). The woman in the center looks out over the water through opera glasses; the children at the right perhaps await a chance to ride the nearby donkey, while the other vacationers sit or stroll about. In isolated positions that form neat diagonals, the figures have the conscious order of those in Manet’s view of the 1867 fair (Pl. 7). On this plain shore, however, there is none of the complicated play of hillslope and fairgrounds which integrated figure and setting in the earlier canvas. The contrast with Boudin (Pl. 270), who pioneered such views, is even more striking. His vacationers are usually grouped in set places against the three horizontal stripes of beach, water, and sky. Unlike Manet’s, however, his groups are overlapped, or linked by beach furniture, scampering children and dogs, or elongated shadows. His horizon lines are much lower (this permitted the overlappings), and his skies therefore dominate, skies on which he lavished special attention (like John Constable, he painted autonomous cloud studies). Manet’s beach scene treats the sky as a pale lavender-blue backdrop, and the sea has just enough activity to be convincing. Manet is still the Parisian, bringing an urban vision to the seashore to which Boudin had devoted himself all his life.
Description: On the Beach at Boulogne by Manet, Edouard
280. Manet, On the Beach at Boulogne, 1869. 32 × 65 cm. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond. Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon.
Manet’s next appearance at the seaside was in the spring of 1871, when he recuperated from the siege of Paris by spending a month at Arcachon, near Bordeaux. He did several marine views and began a painting of his wife and Léon Koëlla in the salon of their rented house, with a view out over the bay. Later that year he and his family spent a short period at Boulogne, where his only picture showed Koëlla and several adult friends playing croquet on the lawn of the casino, overlooking the sea. Then in 1873, he returned for the last time to the north coast, to Etaples, near Berck-sur-Mer, with his family. Berck was not yet “developed,” and the family may have chosen the region so as to avoid the busy society of the resorts. In a very productive three weeks, Manet did eight or nine marines (including fishermen working on their boats) and three figure pieces. Two of these show the beach at Berck, one with his wife and brother, seated, dominating the foreground, the other with bathers (Pl. 281). In the bathing picture, we again detect the artist more anxious to rival the traditions of painting than to respond to a vision of the immediate present. The models’ flowing hair and exposed limbs, rendered in Manet’s liquid gestures, have a sensual freshness in an era when such exposure was uncommon, but the reclining bather has the form of many a familiar female figure, nude and clothed, including Corot’s bacchantes, and the other adopts a statuesque pose that takes away the immediacy of her gesture.
Description: Women on the Beach by Manet, Edouard
281. Manet, Women on the Beach, 1873. 38 × 44 cm. Detroit Institute of Arts. Bequest of Robert H. Tannahill.
The other, more naturalistic current in Manet’s art is found in The Swallows (Pl. 282). Instead of the museum attitudes of the two bathers, Manet’s mother and wife are in informal poses that in less gifted hands might have appeared ungainly. Suzanne sits with feet splayed out, watching the swallows that sweep the field for insects. She wears the white straw hat that was one of Manet’s favorites (it is worn by the woman in Boating (Pl. 238), and both women have veils to protect them from sand and wind. The artist’s mother reclines on one elbow while she reads. She wears dark clothes which conveniently flatter her daughter-in-law’s more fashionable costume, a common deference to youth and beauty. For all the freshness of their appearance, they form a calculated triangle, set off by the disc of the parasol, whose aureole alludes to the absent sun.
Description: The Swallows by Manet, Edouard
282. Manet, The Swallows, 1873. 65.5 × 81 cm. Zürich, Bührle Collection.
Instead of the three rather abstract strips which cover the surface of Women on the Beach, the land and the sky in The Swallows have so much incident that we almost ignore the fact that they constitute two rectangles. The windmills, facing the sea off to the left and behind us, are a convenient reminder of the northern tradition that underpins this composition. Manet had been in Holland the previous year, and in the weeks before he went to Berck he had savored a real triumph in the Salon with his Bon Bock, a painting of a stout burgher with pipe and beer whose Dutch ancestry was immediately recognized. The Swallows has a broad sweep of flat land, a village in mid-distance, and an active sky which were staples of Dutch prints and paintings. The sky is the most convincingly naturalistic of any of Manet’s coastal pictures to date and reflects a knowledge of Boudin and of Daubigny, both of whom had made a speciality of painting along the Channel coast; except for the figures’ black and white, the palette is very close to Daubigny’s. Berck was not far from the Lowlands and has the level shore and the constantly moving clouds that inspired the Dutch and then Boudin, Daubigny, Jongkind, and Monet. Boudin is also the artist who specialized in rendering costumed vacationers at the shore in a vigorous shorthand, both in watercolors and oils. Manet’s wife and mother have been customarily likened to Japanese prints, but their liquid abbreviations are much closer to Boudin’s work of the previous decade, well known to Manet. It is probably this painterly bravura which led to the picture’s rejection by the Salon jury in 1874.
To our modern eye, schooled as well by Monet and the other impressionists, Manet’s picture seems far more naturalistic than his earlier beach scene (Pl. 280) and the two other figure pieces done at Berck. It is also a more plausible outdoors painting than Degas’s slightly later Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk of 1875–76 (Pl. 283) and his Beach Scene (Pl. 284). Although Degas had done a large number of pastels at Boulogne in 1869, they were exclusively seascapes and landscapes without significant human figures, and the two later oils are his only pictures of seaside leisure. Peasant Girls Bathing is one of his strangest pictures, one that Gauguin would gladly have signed. Against an unfinished scumble of browns, tans, greys, and dull greens, three young women, nude, tilting curiously to the left, join hands in an ecstatic scamper in the shallows. Behind them are three smaller figures, a wooden pier, and two ships in front of a setting sun. Despite its unfinished appearance, Degas included it in the impressionist exhibitions of 1876 and 1877, in part, one feels, to challenge the public to come to terms with a daring sketch.
Description: Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk by Degas, Edgar
283. Degas, Peasant Girls Bathing in the Sea at Dusk, 1875–76. 65 × 81 cm. Private collection.
Description: Beach Scene by Degas, Edgar
284. Degas, Beach Scene, 1876–77. 47 × 82.5 cm. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees, The National Gallery, London.
In its second showing, this picture of local girls was accompanied by Beach Scene, a view of vacationers. The nudity of the native girls tells us of their uninhibited nature, whereas the abundance of clothes and gear in this other painting bespeaks the well-provided vacationer, here a young girl whose maid is combing her hair. With his customary wit, Degas plays the three-dimensional forms of parasol, two figures, and the hamper against the flattened-out parasol and swimsuit. By neatly fitting into the corner of the composition, the still life calls attention to itself, as though being stretched out on the canvas were tantamount to being staked out on sand. The remaining figures are a supporting cast for the protagonists. On the left, in another beguiling contrast with the nude bathers, a chilly, well-wrapped family follows a nanny who bears an infant on her shoulder. The mother bends forward solicitously and daughter dutifully follows, but willful son has paused to look over towards the foreground. Beyond the family is a woman, wrapped in a shawl, with her parasol lowered. She and her dog are being greeted politely by the only adult male on the beach, a balding middle-aged man who has doffed his hat, and who answers the parasol with his cane. To his right a woman is seated on a folding chair, facing the water, with another woman or child seated nearby. In the shallow water are a number of bathers and further out, several ships. The two tiny steamships on the horizon frame the scene, but leave us wondering if the wind could really blow in opposed directions, or if the artist is mocking nature.
All Degas’s minor figures are positioned on the paper (the work consists of oil on several joined sheets of paper) in such a way as to lead our eye back to the horizon with some subtlety, in contrast to the less believable placement of the vacationers in Manet’s On the Beach at Boulogne (Pl. 280). Degas had been in Boulogne in 1869 and later may well have decided to rival Manet’s picture with one of his own. His water tips back more convincingly than Manet’s, but the three horizontals of beach, water, and sky (an attenuated version of the triad of orange, green, and purple) are a studio invention, even though their simplicity is excused by the idea of a calm day along a flat shore. Degas openly disdained any slavish attention to nature and told one interviewer how he composed the foreground group: “I spread my flannel waistcoat out on the studio floor and had my model sit on it.”17 Ambroise Vollard, En Ecoutant parler Cézanne, Degas et Renoir (Paris, 1938), p. 112. In some ways, then, this beach picture is closer to Manet’s similar subject of 1869 than to The Swallows of 1873, in which the studio truly seems to have been left behind in Paris.
Morisot’s Vacationers
Berthe Morisot, several years younger than Manet and Degas, was still an apprentice when she painted along the seacoast in the mid-1860s. She was at Beuzeval, west of Trouville, in the summer of 1864, and at Pont-Aven, in Brittany, two summers later. By 1869, when she painted The Harbor at Lorient (Pl. 285), she was a mature artist working in a late Barbizon manner. She was at Lorient that summer to visit her sister Edma, who had recently married. Edma had also been trained as an artist, but gave it up for the role of wife and mother. When Morisot married Manet’s brother Eugène in 1874, she did not deviate from her path as a fully engaged professional. Both before and after her marriage she usually summered outside Paris and in various years painted at Maurecourt, Gennevilliers, and Bougival, and further afield at the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands, Fécamp, Nice, and Cimiez. She traveled also to Spain, Belgium, Holland, and Italy, and if one plotted all the stops in her career, it would not form a pattern different from that of most male painters. One detects the middle-class woman, nonetheless, in the frequency with which she incorporated her family and made domestic references in her seaside paintings, far more often than did Manet or Monet. The viewer is frequently placed within a family setting and shares the imaginary space with women and children, most often, and after her marriage, with her husband.
Description: The Harbor at Lorient by Morisot, Berthe
285. Morisot, The Harbor at Lorient, 1869. 43.5 × 73 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection.
If from The Harbor at Lorient we were to exclude Morisot’s sister, seated on the parapet, we should have the kind of unmediated view of a port that was commonplace in the nineteenth century (covering her image with the hand, then uncovering it, produces two different effects). The viewer could then imagine herself alone, occupying a privileged vantage point unspoiled by the presence of other tourists. Being alone in front of a site is the ideal way to sense distance from home. One feels transported to another realm and time, for being alone allows reality to become the desired illusion. Morisot’s patches and streaks of blue, white, tan, red, green, and brown have transformed the harbor into an impression of delicacy and nostalgia. It recalls two of her preferred artists, Corot and Daubigny, but is painted in a thinner and more linear manner. Neither of these artists, however, would have placed a tourist in the foreground of such a view. It would have been a piece of present-day reality which would have shattered their fiction of distance. In Corot’s Quai des Pâquis, Geneva (Pl. 208), it is a local fisherwoman who looks at us. She is part of this other world that we have come to admire, whereas Edma Morisot is part of our own world. By sharing the site with us, she keeps us from accepting the harbor as an illusion of past time and distanced place.
Four years later, at Fécamp, on the Channel between Le Havre and Dieppe (Pl. 286), Morisot makes tourism or, better, villégiature (holiday stay), the subject of the painting, not the landscape. We see the Channel and several sailboats, also a bit of hillside and the bathing huts stacked along the beach. This distant view is the goal of our visit, but our realm is that of the rented villa or resort hotel, defined by the carved railing and porch supports. For all the open vista, there is a sense of enclosure and privacy here, signalled by the partly drawn sunshade. A woman in vacation garb, presumably Edma, sits near a child who is peering out over the railing; a contemporary hat perches on her head like some errant ship. Near her is a campstool, a piece of vacation furniture that distinguishes this spot from a permanent household. The seated figure directs our eye towards a woman on the landing below, conspicuous despite her position because her parasol is so clearly framed by porch and curtain. Her aperture is vacation time in capsule form: woman with parasol, sea, sailboats, and sky (Pl. 287).
Description: Villa at the Seaside by Morisot, Berthe
286. Morisot, Villa at the Seaside, 1874. 51 × 61 cm. Los Angeles, Norton Simon Foundation.
Description: Villa at the Seaside, detail by Morisot, Berthe
287. Morisot, detail of Villa at the Seaside (Pl. 286).
Morisot’s Fécamp painting is the world familiar to us from her Interior (Pl. 48), the society of the upper middle class where mother and child receive a woman visitor. We are remote in both pictures from Manet’s The Railroad (Pl. 31) and Degas’s Place de la Concorde (Pl. 37), in which urban spaces engender a vastly different relationship of adult and child. We are remote also from Alfred Stevens’s vacationers at Trouville (Pl. 269). Although a child and her mother sit on Stevens’s terrace, we are not in a domestic enclave, but amidst a gregarious public society that encourages encounters of women and men. One woman watches another mount the steps, an incident which forms the whole of Morisot’s story, but here a man watches them. Stevens crowds in a lot of little events, and his style can properly be called narrative because his crisp detailing supports his multiple anecdotes. Morisot, by contrast, is the impressionist who eschews narrative detail (her women even lack facial features). She has given up the relatively precise application of her Lorient harbor view, and now conveys meaning in a broad, free handling. Her porch architecture is similar to Stevens’s, but she uses it to produce fewer and stronger visual ideas. Degas owned this picture (and Manet, her Lorient harbor),18 Degas acquired the picture from its first owner, Henri Rouart; Morisot gave Manet the Lorient picture shortly after it was painted. and we can see why he admired it. The zig-zag of the porch railing and the dynamic spatial structure to the right create an active foil for the placidly seated woman. It is a brilliant invention, one that had no counterpart in Degas’s own work until two or three years later.
Morisot spent the next summer at the Isle of Wight, where she painted several seascapes and harbor views, and the astonishing Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight (Pl. 288). Its freedom of handling seems to take a leap forward towards her work at Bougival half a decade later (Pl. 258). Eugène frames the window view, he does not dominate it as does Caillebotte’s Parisian at his window (Pl. 23). Like the woman on the porch at Fécamp, he unassertively shares the vista with the viewer. His pose is, nonetheless, not that of a woman awaiting a visitor, but of a man reconnoitering his environs. In a typical male pose, sideways on his chair, he has twisted his upper body around towards the outdoors. There is no hint that the woman and child are potential guests. Even though the child is pausing, no signal of recognition or anticipation is exchanged among the figures, and the barriers between us and the public thoroughfare remain unbroken.
Description: Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight by Morisot, Berthe
288. Morisot, Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight, 1875. 38 × 46 cm. Private collection.
Eugène’s gaze initiates the horizontal opening in which we see a young girl, facing away, a woman walking to the left, and on the pale green water, several ships at anchor (Pl. 289). Among them is a green and black steamer that belches smoke. We do not notice the smoke at first, because it is readily confused with the scumble of the nearby curtain. Morisot teases our eye with such an unclear reading because she delights in pulling her images forward from imaginary depth by using obvious surface movements. The woman’s head is occluded by the double window sash, and both outdoor figures are partly hidden by the fence, which in turn picks up the rhythm of the window panes and so seems on the same plane. These veiled images and back-and-forth readings give us a feeling of fresh discovery that suits a quick grasp upon the scene, as though Morisot were doing this in front of our eyes.
Description: Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight, detail by Morisot, Berthe
289. Morisot, detail of Eugène Manet on the Isle of Wight (Pl. 288).
The picture, of course, is quite carefully constructed, the result of experience and cunning. Eugène’s light jacket and hat are partly assimilated with the lace curtains and the sky, so the windowsill and outdoors form a picture within the picture. In it are concentrated all the bright hues; they appear all the more intense because of the grey interior, as though the outdoors had exclusive rights to strong color. Spots of red, pink, and orange-yellow fairly vibrate against the criss-cross streaks of greens, blues, and greyish purples. Light from the outside is discolored by the flowers as it enters the house, so there are yellowish reflections on the left flower pot, pink ones on the central pot. Saturated colors appear through Eugène’s chair-back to assert the integrity of the window frame and to push it back from the foreground. On the other side, the large and freely drawn strokes of paint—they look like paint—help the curtain hug the picture’s surface. The vertical rectangle it forms has echoes in the window panes and the fence and is nearly matched by Eugène and the curtain behind him. All these verticals are set against the equally prominent horizontal rectangles. Together they comprise a grid whose regularity is partly disguised by the freedom with which Morisot moved her brush. Because she is so often subordinated to Manet, his brushwork is usually cited as a precedent, but one might instead remark that this marvelous canvas looks forward to Matisse, whose Mediterranean interiors exploit similar window views. That Matisse’s pictures also conjure up a world of vacation hedonism is no accident. Morisot shared with Manet, Monet, and Renoir the invention of a coloristic language that arose from the study of leisure and outdoors light, those paired concerns that proved so vital to early modern art.
Monet at Sainte-Adresse
For Morisot and Manet, both native Parisians, one attraction of vacation spots along the Channel coast was their unfamiliarity and the resultant pleasures which new landscapes offered a painter. For Monet, raised in Le Havre, the shore of the Channel was his birthright. He, too, could contrast it with Paris where he lived for several years, where he exhibited and found most of his clients. Unlike the others, however, to paint the Norman coastline was to return to the landscapes of his youth, to construct images that could accommodate his memory, his well-tutored awareness of the constantly shifting, moist skies, of the winds that swept across the harbors, the beaches, and the chalk cliffs. It is true, he painted landscapes in the Forest of Fontainebleau in 1864 and 1865, in Paris in 1867, and at Bougival in 1869, but far more extensive were his campaigns in and around the estuary of the Seine: Honfleur in 1864, Sainte-Adresse and Honfleur in 1865, 1866, and 1867, Le Havre in 1867 and 1868, Sainte-Adresse, Fécamp, and Etretat in 1868, Trouville in 1870. Much of the following decade was spent near Paris, notably at Argenteuil, but he returned to his native coast beginning in 1881 with successive stays at Fécamp, Pourville, and Etretat. When he settled permanently in Giverny in 1883, he confirmed his preference for Normandy, even if Giverny is a riverside, not a coastal village.
Description: Dumont's Baths at Sainte-Adresse by Le Gray, Gustave
290. Gustave Le Gray, Dumont’s Baths at Sainte-Adresse, c. 1856–57. Photograph, 31.7 × 41 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago, Hugh Edwards Photography Purchase Fund, 1971.577/8.
Sainte-Adresse, which Monet painted repeatedly from 1864 onwards, was two and a half miles from the center of Le Havre. One reached it by bus through Ingouville, “the English village,” a residential quarter on the heights northeast of the harbor. From there one descended to the open bay of Sainte-Adresse terminated by the Cap de la Hève. A number of Monet’s paintings look along the shore towards the Cap (Pl. 291), others back towards Ingouville (Pls. 294, 295). Sainte-Adresse had been “discovered” by the British in the 1820s (they were already then important residential tradesmen in Le Havre), and before mid-century it was Le Havre’s principal watering place in summertime. Corot, Isabey, Jongkind, and other artists painted there, and Alphonse Karr carried its fame to Paris in his many essays, articles, prefaces, and pamphlets. He made another contribution by establishing new plantings of domesticated and wild flowers along the bay, including the waterborne arrowhead plant. This he had admired while boating and swimming in the Seine near Paris, and by introducing it to the streams above the beach, he was colonizing the coast in a unique fashion.19 Chapus 1855, p. 230. Did Monet, later such an avid gardener, derive inspiration from Sainte-Adresse’s famous horticulturalist? By the time of Monet’s first boyhood visits to Sainte-Adresse, its gardens were listed among its charms, although they were minor embellishments of the main attractions, the bathing establishments and the casino. Bathers could while away their time by visiting the locally famous twin lighthouses perched on the far side of the Cap de la Hève.
Description: Sainte-Adresse, Fishing Boats on the Shore by Monet, Claude
291. Monet, Sainte-Adresse, Fishing Boats on the Shore, 1867. 57 × 80 cm. Private collection.
When Monet returned to Sainte-Adresse in 1867 for a long summer’s stay, he painted the view along the shingle beach towards the Cap (Pl. 291), one especially recommended to tourists, who were reminded that it had been Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s favorite haunt at the beginning of the century. The tops of the lighthouses are just visible on the brow of the promontory. More conspicuous against the sky is the chapel completed eight years earlier, dedicated to Our Lady of the Waves (Notre Dame des flots). In front of it is a white cone affectionately called “the sugar loaf” by the natives, a cenotaph honoring Admiral Lefèvre-Desnouettes.20 Joanne 1873, p. 46. Both monuments, like the lighthouses, surmount a bay and village that had long been devoted to the sea. In the foreground are several beached fishing boats, a lone mast in the sand, a capstan to the right, and a number of fishermen and women. No vacationers are present, although the white buildings off in the distance below the chapel, just touched by the light brown sail, would have been recognized by locals as the casino. It shows more clearly in a photograph of the site taken a decade earlier by Gustave Le Gray (Pl. 290). (The “sugar loaf” stands by itself, since the chapel had not yet been built.)
Monet had painted the Cap de la Hève several times since 1864, following in the footsteps of J. B. Jongkind, who had long before made it a favorite site. Monet had met the Dutch painter in 1862, and in 1864 the two of them and Boudin painted together at Honfleur. Jongkind, twenty-one years older than Monet, had come to Paris in 1846 and spent most of his time thereafter in northern France, with frequent returns to the Lowlands. He cultivated his Dutch origins and contributed importantly to the shift of landscape painting in France towards the north, away from Italy. In his Sainte-Adresse (Pl. 292), he shows ordinary activity along the bay, without recourse to dramatic incident, much as Dutch painters of the seventeenth century had done at Scheveningen. His brushwork is varied and flowing, and owes a great deal to his habit of filling whole albums with watercolors done on the spot, often annotated, in emulation of Constable, with the hour of the day.
Description: Sainte-Adresse by Jongkind, Johan Barthold
292. J.B. Jongkind, Sainte-Adresse, 1866. 33.5 × 56 cm. Collection unknown. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Jongkind was second only to Boudin as Monet’s mentor, and yet we can readily distinguish the young artist’s work from his. Jongkind thought in terms of large planes, each given a broad treatment that conforms more to a sense of the whole than to closely observed particularities. The distant point of land, compared with Monet’s, seems to be summarized in large abridgements of light and dark. The foreground, rising up to the building on the right, clings to one lateral plane, set against the water and the distant headland. Monet’s painting is much more complicated, and the rather gradual movement back to the Cap along the rising land is punctuated by many small patches of color which are easily read as buildings, pathways, rocky outcroppings, and vegetation (Pl. 293).
Description: Sainte-Adresse, Fishing Boats on the Shore, detail by Monet, Claude
293. Monet, detail of Sainte-Adresse, Fishing Boats on the Shore (Pl. 291).
Monet’s foreground is also more complex than Jongkind’s. It is controlled by diminishing lines which all meet at the building on the right edge above center. The boats along the water’s edge, the mast in the center, and the patchy vegetation to the right all lead our eye to that building. The boats, unified by their shared diagonal, are the most striking feature of the picture. Monet took advantage of the fact that they were of different sizes, although most have the same shape. Our eye cannot quite assimilate all of them in a single movement back into depth as it can the horse in Jongkind’s picture. On the left, our eye jumps upward to the large boats, then drops down in steps to reach a group of tiny figures, three seated and one standing. To their right, surprisingly large, a blue-frocked fisherman faces us (a characteristic figure from Jongkind’s repertoire), standing next to his wife and infant. Upon reflection the jump in scale is resolved by realizing that the low boat below the little group hides the fact that the beach slopes away at that point; they are so small, compared to the fisherman’s family, because they are farther away than we had anticipated at first. Further reflection reveals the great care with which Monet built his forms and images. He placed the family in the gap between the two small boats, in effect creating the gap for them. They are centered on the boat behind them, and its top edge, marked by their heads, coincides with a groyne that forms a continuous line linking the largest boats with the rising land to the far right. Over the water, the groyne completes the trapezoid that shelters the tiny fishermen. They are echoed, in turn, by the two figures who stand behind the boat to the right of the family; they have their own boat-shaped aperture.
All the figures in Monet’s painting are seacoast residents. In the family group, the husband has a mariner’s cap and blue jacket, the wife, a Norman coiffe and apron; her baby is rendered uniquely by its white bonnet. They could have had good reason to be on the beach, but, of course, it is Monet who put them there as representatives of Sainte-Adresse. This makes us out to be the visitors—that is why the fisherman is posing for us—who have come to admire the sea and to look at local boats and people. Paintings of the seashore gave the tourists’s view and were destined for Le Havre and Paris (Monet had exhibited one of the same site in the Salon of 1865). What drew Monet to Sainte-Adresse also drew the mass of vacationers there, and the increased favor of seascape painting in France coincided with the rising tide of tourism.
Vacationers and fishermen share the beach in two other paintings Monet did that summer, both looking away from the Cap de la Hève towards Ingouville and Le Havre. In one (Pl. 294), a number of visitors watch a regatta while three mariners talk together in their beached boat. In the other (Pl. 295), fishermen and their boats dominate the foreground, but a pair of seated vacationers are prominent despite their small size. In the regatta picture, water and sky take up four-fifths of the surface. Puffy clouds float below a high streaked layer; the sky’s greyish blue has a violet cast that is repeated in the shallows of the water, which elsewhere is marked by saturated greens and blues. The sailboats together form an elongated triangle that matches the shape of the land in mid-distance; the largest yacht closes off the right edge, and responds to the three-story villa on the opposite edge (one of those garishly colored “parrots” that Eugène Chapus deplored). In this painting we have the same mixture of a mariner’s and a vacationer’s coastline that Chapus noted in 1855: nouveau-riche villa and the old church steeple, fishing boats and yachts, vacationers and sailors.21 See the epigraph at the head of this chapter, and for the parrot villas, Chapus 1855, p. 264: “…bourgeois houses of natty aspect, even with boisterous colors”; “All these houses have the look of parrots; they make the eyes wince.” The dominance of leisure forms was already assured, for fishermen had been selling out to vacationers or entrepreneurs, and yachts were more numerous than fishing boats.
Description: Regatta at Sainte-Adresse by Monet, Claude
294. Monet, Regatta at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. 75.5 × 101.5 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bequest of William Church Osborne, 1951.
Description: The Beach at Sainte-Adresse by Monet, Claude
295. Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. 75 × 101 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. & Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.439.
To locate ourselves in the pendant to this picture (Pl. 295), we must imagine walking along the beach of the regatta view and stationing ourselves to the left, closer to the beached boat. In the pendant, that boat and two others hide the dip in the beach that is visible in the other painting. Nothing else in the modeling of the beach explains the distance between us and the tiny seated couple, so again we have curious juxtapositions that flatten the picture, calling attention to its surface. The startling blue of one boat pulls it forward, and the stubby, flat profiles of those on the left make them also cling to the surface rather than dip back convincingly into imaginary depth. Because the foreground is bleached by the grey light of a sunless day, there are none of the shadows of the regatta painting, and so the three fishermen are unmodeled silhouettes. The diffuse light also reduces the variety of color and the contrasting planes of the buildings in the distance, compared to the crisp treatment of the sunlit painting.
Although the blue boat was a fisherman’s, it is the most modern element of this picture. It has the obtrusive presence of the blue color of modern campers’ tents or boaters’ tarpaulins. It is held in the picture—but barely—by the fact that the water is a lighter blue whose greenish tinge mediates between the boat’s blue and the yellow of its gunwales and stepped mast. It is also held by the brown sailboats above, which weigh it down, as it were, and integrate it with imaginary depth by carrying our eye across the bay. The bowsprit of the foremost sailboat ends directly above the stern of the blue boat. Together they form a vertical, dividing the canvas into a broad area full of activity and a narrow one free of incident. Our eye sweeps into the narrow zone, suitably clear because it carries us out towards the sea, with its indefinite distances.
The more we look into this picture, the more we realize how well calculated it is. The large active part that ends at the vertical formed by the two boats is an exact square. Employing one of the most common of all painters’ devices, Monet measured the height of his canvas out across its width from left to right, and erected a vertical there. On the other side, the church spire marks the same measurement from right to left. The spire, the church of Saint-Michel in Sainte-Adresse (the oldest in greater Le Havre), outrivals the new villa on the left edge because it is the focal point of a number of constructive lines. One runs over through the brown sailboats, another across two minuscule boats to the seated tourists, and then to the bows of the beached boats, and a third drops down the dark mast to the boats and men in the left foreground. The diagonal along which the seated couple are located ensures their importance (Pl. 267). They also sit at the apex of a triangle formed when our eye picks up the opposing diagonal that takes us from the boats in the left back to the furthest sailboat. Tiny they may be, but the couple sit at the very center of this painting’s key events. Everything else is a setting for these visitors. The woman’s red and white costume guarantees our attention and distinguishes her from the natives. The man’s raised telescope becomes the picture’s symbol: the view of a man of leisure who stares out over the water.
The modernity of all three paintings of the shore of Sainte-Adresse becomes more obvious when we compare them with a picture of the previous generation. In Isabey’s View along the Norman Coast (Pl. 296), all the figures are native, as is true of the first Monet we looked at (Pl. 291). At least one of the figures, possibly two, are staring at us, for we are like the artist in the anonymous engraving of 1866 (Pl. 268). We are the painter-visitor who, in the words of Morlent (see the epigraph to this chapter), is going to take away one of “these natural and splendid illustrations.” Monet’s view of fisherfolk and their boats takes up Isabey’s subject, but he produces a series of shapes that interlock with an abruptness and a flatness that the older painter could not have countenanced. The structure of the other two Monets is superficially close to Isabey but there, too, the higher horizon line, the lack of detailed modeling, and the large areas of nearly flat and stronger color produce a very different result. If we needed proof of the distance landscape had traveled since 1852, we need only compare Isabey’s water, with its ruffled light and shade, with Monet’s sheets of greenish blue.
Description: View along the Norman Coast by Isabey, Eugène
296. Eugène Isabey, View along the Norman Coast, 1852. 43.8 × 64.8 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase with funds provided by Craig P. Cullinan, Jnr., in memory of Olga Keith Weiss.
The tourists who appear in two of Monet’s paintings would be unthinkable for Isabey who, like Daubigny, Corot, and Jongkind, preserved the fiction of an unmediated past, as though the viewer were the only tourist present. Monet had attempted this in the first of the pictures we examined, as Manet had in Moonlight over Boulogne Harbor (Pl. 276), but in the two other pictures, Monet combined vacationers and natives. Increasingly the painter of the modern landscape (only months before he had painted Paris from the balcony of the Louvre), he was unwilling to exclude the truth of contemporary life along the coast. In Terrace at Sainte-Adresse (Pl. 297), the most famous painting of that summer’s campaign, he devoted himself entirely to vacationers.
Description: Terrace at Sainte-Adresse by Monet, Claude
297. Monet, Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, 1967. 98 × 130 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From a window of his aunt’s villa, where he stayed that summer, he looked out over the Channel; in the left distance is the thin purple band which marks the coast to the west, beyond Honfleur. In the center foreground Mme Lecadre sits in a bentwood chair, under her parasol. Monet’s father is next to her, looking towards the young couple at the edge of the terrace, the artist’s cousin Jeanne-Marguérite Lecadre and an unidentified man. Out in the water are a number of ships, varying from the pleasure boats moored on the left, towards Le Havre, to the Channel steamers on the right, towards England. Monet had often painted such boats, entering and leaving Le Havre and Honfleur. The more we look at the boats, the more we realize that they have been assembled to tell us a story. They include a mixture of old and new ships that represent this transitional generation of sail and steam. On the horizon are four old-fashioned sailing vessels, one of them a survivor from the past, a five-masted bark. Alternating among them are four steamships, including a paddle steamer in red, white, and blue that just nudges the righthand flagpole—an encounter of surface and depth that is one of Monet’s rare pieces of wit. The steamer bears government colors, as does the flagpole it touches, lending official sanction to this scene of maritime prosperity. The large ships stand for the busy transatlantic, Channel, and coastal traffic that had recently made Le Havre the chief port of France, outdistancing Marseilles in volume of produce. In the middle distance is another contrived juxtaposition, the fishing boat that symbolically touches Jeanne-Marguérite’s parasol. It is the same local boat that appears in the two views towards Ingouville (Pls. 294, 295), a brown-sailed ketch readily distinguished from the white-sailed yachts (white sails were more expensive), and the only clear sign of traditional life at Sainte-Adresse before its transformation by vacationers.
In the foreground, Adolphe Monet gazes out upon the scene. He looks in the direction of Le Havre, linking foreground with distance. This is only as it should be, because his vacation at Sainte-Adresse was earned by keeping shop in the nearby city. Both he and his son have the forward-looking spirit of the men of Le Havre, praised by the German visitor Jacob Venedey in 1841 for their cosmopolitan outlook, a “pattern” derived, he said, from constant intercourse with England and America:
… they there find patterns, who give them daily fresh lessons on the high interests of trade, and point out to them what urgently requires to be done…. Hence their notions respecting free trade; hence their enmity to everything that looks like monopoly and privilege, at least in commerce.
Venedey then takes his reader out to Ingouville on the heights above Sainte-Adresse: “The wealthier merchants of the wealthy commercial town have here built a number of palaces, where they enjoy themselves in summer after the toils of the day. Many English live in those which the owners are willing to let that they may thus make money even of their villas.” From such villas, Venedey writes, he had evening views over the Channel, “and while my eye roved over the expansive sea, imagination has accompanied the vessels leaving the port to other regions of the globe. A spring morning, or a summer evening here, is a treat on which you may feast all your life….”22 Venedey 1841, vol. 1, pp. 43, 178.
Not only was Le Havre oriented towards England and the northern seas, so too was the drift of French landscape painting. In the 1820s, when British tourism and the Channel resorts began to develop, Constable, Bonington, Turner, and the Fielding brothers became influential in Paris. To their northern naturalism, so different from the Mediterranean heritage which had heretofore dominated, was added a growing appreciation of Lowlands painting. The landscapes of Delacroix. Huet, Rousseau, Daubigny, Courbet, and Boudin are unthinkable without the precedents set by Ruysdael, Hobbema, or Van de Velde, seconded by the recent work of the British (and by Jongkind, a direct transmitter). Monet, Sisley, and Pissarro typified their generation by traveling not to the Mediterranean but to England and Holland (Monet visited England in 1870–71 and Holland in 1871 and 1874). It would be futile to try to draw the lines too tightly between landscape painting and the role of Britain in France’s industrial revolution, but we are justified in making the broad equation: as Le Havre displaced Marseille, so Constable displaced Poussin.
Monet’s terrace, in other words, looked north across the Channel, not south towards the grande tradition. He was learning from Daubigny, Boudin, and Jongkind, not from the italianate painters who still taught landscape at the Academy. He set out on his own and, to apply Venedey’s phrases to him, “hence his notions respecting free trade; hence his enmity to everything that looks like monopoly and privilege….” He painted Le Havre’s suburb with the enterprise of one who set his sights rather ruthlessly towards the future, eager to sever ties with the past. It is no accident that his terrace, lit by that splendid afternoon sun, represents the outward-looking view of Le Havre’s suburb. He erected Venedey’s “pattern,” a platform of earned leisure in front of the sea, the cycle of work and leisure in one composition. He marshaled his images more programmatically than Morisot did in her later Villa at the Seaside (Pl. 286), where there is no hint of maritime commerce nor of a whole family. His pattern is also different from Stevens’s saucy rendering of young vacationers at Trouville (Pl. 269), since it presents the domain of a staid middle-class family. Adolphe Monet and his half-sister represent the older generation; they have the established positions that pay for such a villa. The two young people stand for youth, and their courtship is more decorous, more bourgeois than the flirtatious encounters preferred by Stevens. They are upright and by themselves, to show their youth, but the empty chairs integrate them with the older pair. Were they seated, they would be separated by proper middle-class distance.
It is well that Monet was an optimist, for the prosperous scene that he painted was a contrast with his fortunes that summer. In late spring he had left his mistress Camille Doncieux alone and penniless in a Paris apartment (no wonder he had consoled her with Women in a Garden, Pl. 181!). There, in early August, she gave birth to their son, Jean. Monet recognized the child by having a friend act as his proxy in signing the birth certificate. His father had opposed the liaison and urged his son to desert Camille. He seems to have kept pressure on Claude to adopt a conventional life; there was certainly friction between father and son. Monet’s aunt was apparently more welcoming. The artist could live with her while pursuing his craft, but she would not lend him money.23 See Wildenstein 1974–85, vol. 1, pp. 36–38, and the letters reprinted pp. 423–25. He spent the summer begging his friend Bazille to send money to Camille while he tried to improve his fortunes by going back and forth to Le Havre, painting a large picture of the harbor for the next Salon in Paris. The Terrace at Sainte-Adresse, therefore, seems the work of a young artist (he was then twenty-seven) surprisingly confident in his talent despite setbacks, determined to put into his picture an ideal world he could not yet realize. In view of Camille’s miserable situation in Paris and his own worries, the young couple in the picture project a poignant optimism.
To convey the sunny outlook of his images, Monet used a compositional scheme of striking simplicity which draws attention to the symbolic juxtapositions. Top and bottom halves are united by the soaring verticals of the flagpoles and by the repetition in the flags of the brilliant reds of the gladioli, geraniums, and nasturtiums that festoon the foreground. In its confident geometry the picture speaks for the incursion of modern forms of organization into this fishing village. Even the flowers are cultivated plants, not the ones that grew naturally along the slopes of Sainte-Adresse. The terrace is cast up starkly against the sea, a one-to-one confrontation of leisure and commerce which eliminates the customary view of the shoreline that mediated the two in Boudin’s views of seacoast society (Pl. 270). Boudin’s pictures are equally characterized by broad horizontal rectangles, but our eye can move continuously from beach to water to sky, and the borders of each rectangle are softened and partly hidden by overlapping forms. We cannot imagine his painting the railing of Monet’s picture, which impounds the sea as though it were a dam. It defines a rising plane whose abruptness is reinforced by the vertical divisions of the flagpoles. To give a sense of depth despite this flatness, he exaggerates the role of diagonals which we habitually read as indicators of recession. The chief diagonal is the line on the right which separates sand from grass. Almost as prominent is the one which leads from Adolphe Monet through the mound of flowers to the young couple, then to the fishing boat. The arbitrariness of this scheme, which divides the canvas into geometric segments, is one that only Manet could match in 1867 (Pl. 7).
The modernity of Monet’s picture resides in its structure, not just in its images. Stevens’s Trouville terrace (Pl. 269) has just as modern a subject, but his organization follows long-established conventions. Monet instead uses the assertive patterns with which industrial society was colonizing the countryside, the straight lines of railroad tracks and bridges, of macadam turnpikes and canalized rivers. The transformation of fishing villages into modern resorts was marked by intrusive geometries that echoed Haussmann’s Paris: broad avenues, squares, sidewalks, formal gardens, and huge buildings.24 Rouillard 1984, chs. 4 and 5. For the entrepreneurs who boasted of them, these new shapes were signs of progress; in them were traced the institutions of leisure which catered to visiting strangers. Monet unwittingly used similar shapes because they were a young painter’s way of establishing his modernity, of organizing his perceptions of his native coast which he would take to Paris to exhibit and sell. They are what make this composition an important forebear of Georges Seurat’s Sunday on the Island of the Grande Jatte, that well-organized statement of suburban leisure in the next generation. It is also a foretaste of what was to come in Sainte-Adresse by the 1880s (Pl. 298), when the irregular topography of the beachfront, no longer sufficient for the crowds that paraded there in bustles and on velocipedes, was replaced by a wide roadway that led to the center of Le Havre. Monet’s painted terrace is like that avenue (and his aunt’s villa was like the one on the far right and very close to its emplacement). Municipal authorities and owners of villas were constantly filling in or leveling land, pushing landings, porches, and roads out towards the water, creating those artificial spaces that “belonged” to the Parisians and other visitors, not to the fishermen and shopkeepers who had once lived there.
Description: Sainte-Adresse towards the Cap de la Hève by Després, Jules
298. Jules Després, Sainte-Adresse towards the Cap de la Hève. Engraving from Constant De Tours, Du Havre à Cherbourg, c. 1890, p. 59.
Monet at Trouville
In 1868, following his summer at Sainte-Adresse, Monet painted a number of seascapes and coastal views in the region of Le Havre. None of these showed vacationers, and resort society did not reappear in his work until mid-summer 1870, when he went to Trouville with Camille and their three-year-old son Jean. They had married in Paris on 8 June 1870, hardly a calm moment, however, since rumors of war were swirling about; it is likely that Monet married then at least partly to escape military service.25 See Wildenstein 1974–85, vol. 1, p. 46. France declared war on Prussia on 19 July, but Monet’s choice of Trouville need not be related to this fatal move, since he usually left the capital during the summer months. He and his family arrived at the resort on a unknown day in July or early August, and remained there until autumn. Louis Napoleon’s debacle at Sedan had led to the declaration of the Third Republic on 4 September, but the disastrous war continued. Monet fled to London, followed shortly by Camille and Jean. He did not return to France until late the next year, preferring England and Holland to France, racked successively by war, the siege of Paris, and the Commune, and its bloody repression.
Trouville was an attractive place for a combined vacation and campaign of painting. Although Monet and Camille had been living together for several years, they could here celebrate their sanctioned marriage by joining other vacationers at the watering place uniformly referred to as the “jewel” or the “queen” of the Channel coast. It was a cut above Sainte-Adresse. Monet knew it well, although no painting of it before 1870 has survived in his work. Trouville had often been painted by two artists he admired and who were influential in his development, Boudin and Courbet. Boudin had painted there off and on for nearly a decade, and Courbet, as we saw, had triumphant seasons at Trouville in 1865 and at its new neighbor, Deauville, in 1866. Courbet had been one of Monet’s marriage witnesses in June and might have reminded the young artist of his earlier good fortune there. As for Boudin, he and his wife arrived at Trouville in mid-August and became the couple’s companions. Caught in his usual tangle of borrowing and spending, Monet went over to Le Havre in September to try to dislodge money from his father for his hotel bill; he wrote Boudin to ask him to look after Camille during his absence. They had been staying at the Tivoli, a middling hotel well back from the prestigious waterfront, cheaper than the best but still fairly costly.26 Guide annuaire 1868, p. 80, lists it among eleven “principal hotels” at Trouville, with room and board pegged at six to seven francs a day.
During his stay at Trouville Monet painted only one non-tourist landscape, a view of the outlet of the Touques river, which separated Deauville from Trouville and formed their joint harbor. Three paintings represent the beachfront and its phalanx of principal hotels (Pls. 301, 302). Four smaller ones show Camille on the beach, and a fifth, an unidentified woman who might also have been posed by Camille. The best known of these is The Beach at Trouville (Pl. 299). Like the other figure pieces, it is a pochade, or sketch, probably a project for a larger, unrealized picture. Upon first glance it seems casual in its brushwork, as though it were not well thought-out. Some of its dash can be put down to an emulation of Manet, which is the case, but Monet has already made most of the decisions required for a major figure composition. His wife is given pride of place out on the beach. The other woman is that kind of companion—aunt, or friend—who sets off the more glamourous younger woman. Camille is on display not only because of her flowered hat and light dress, compared to the other’s dark clothing, but also because she dominates the composition. She is on the left, where our eye enters, and her profile looks out over the beach towards her plain companion. The older woman, who is either reading or doing needlework, has propped her parasol on her shoulder to leave her hands free, but Camille holds hers grandly above her head. Her hands are otherwise unoccupied, as befits her youth and higher station. One segment of her parasol continues the lines of her forehead and hat, and the top of one stay just touches the crest of the beach tent. Springing, as it were, from her head, Camille’s parasol lays claim to large spaces, whereas the other woman’s shelters her head symmetrically and confirms her more modest place.
Description: The Beach at Trouville by Monet, Claude
299. Monet, The Beach at Trouville, 1870. 38 × 46 cm. Reproduced by courtesy of the Trustees, The National Gallery, London.
In painting Camille on the beach, Monet was celebrating her as a fashionable vacationer, the kind of offering an impecunious artist can make to his bride. We can only guess at the life they led that summer, always short of money, yet rubbing elbows with Trouville’s dashing society. Monet showed that society in three paintings where vacationers stand and stroll in front of the prestigious hotels that faced the sea. These beachfront views are larger than the studies of Camille, and they were carried to a further degree of completion, though they remain far from conventionally finished. The Boardwalk at Trouville (Pl. 301) recalls Boudin’s subjects, but its plunging space contrasts with the horizontal bands that the older artist customarily used (Pl. 270). The nearest approach to Monet’s perspective that Boudin painted is a work of 1863 (Pl. 300). Even here, however, his horizon line is much lower, his figures line up along horizontals, and the retaining wall bends around nearly parallel to the surface. Monet fills his foreground with the boardwalk which assumes astonishing importance, as do the green steps that Boudin rendered more discreetly. These shapes have an urban look that foretells the later terracing of the beach or the modernization of the shorefront, already mentioned in connection with Sainte-Adresse (Pl. 298). Monet’s dynamic wedge focuses on the potential for moving about, whereas Boudin’s horizontals suit contemplation. The green stairs are another sign of walking to and fro, and the figures in mid-distance are either walking to the left or back and forth along the boardwalk. The phalanx of hotels faces the sea and, together with the tourists, dominates the natural setting. “Trouville,” according to its quasi-official publication of 1868,
is the boulevard des Italiens of Norman beaches. If the flâneur of city pavement, dozing on a divan at the Café Richelieu while digesting his succulent dinner, were suddenly transported by the rug of One Thousand and One Nights to the casino in Trouville, he would not believe that he had left Paris when he awakened there.27 Guide annuaire 1868, p. 17.
Description: The Beach at Trouville by Boudin, Eugène
300. Boudin, The Beach at Trouville, 1863. Panel, 34.5 × 58.1 cm. Private collection. Photograph by kind permission of The Lefevre Gallery (Alex Reid & Lefevre Ltd.).
Description: The Boardwalk at Trouville by Monet, Claude
301. Monet, The Boardwalk at Trouville, 1870. 53.5 × 65 cm. Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection.
The largest building in the distance of the boardwalk picture was “the king of the Norman coast,”28 Désert 1983, p. 89. the Hôtel des Roches Noires, named for the nearby seaweed-covered rocks where fisherfolk once gathered mussels and where vacationers now removed their shoes and played at being natives. Monet’s masterpiece of the Trouville campaign (Pl. 302) features this hotel. It had opened only four years earlier, the latest in a rampant building campaign along the beach. Its emblem was an eight-foot high statue of Neptune, the baroque form that salutes the sky from the top of the facade in Monet’s painting. The hotel boasted 150 rooms (with attic quarters for staff and clients’ servants), communal rooms devoted to indoor bathing, cardplaying, billiards, and reading, as well as a café, a restaurant, a concert hall (with Paris orchestra), and attached stables. In describing these, the local guide in 1868 compared it favorably with three different buildings in Paris,29 Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 75–78. including the Grand Hôtel on the boulevard des Capucines, which Monet was to paint in 1873 (Pl. 18). Everything was done to remind visitors that staying at the Roches Noires was the next thing to being in Paris itself. Monet seems to have agreed, for he relegated the water to a small wedge on the left. By concentrating on the hotel and its terrace, he took up a theme common to all the guide-book descriptions of life at Trouville:
It is between the casino and the water, at certain hours of the day, that you can see coming and going, rivaling one another in luxury, bathing in order to undress, dressing again an hour later in order to change costume, all these elegant Parisians, English, Spanish, Russians, or Americans, for whom life is a perpetual fair and costume a masquerade that is ordinarily renewed five or six times a day.30 Album-guide 1881, p. 58.
Description: The Hôtel des Roches Noires, Trouville by Monet, Claude
302. Monet, The Hotel des Roches Noires, Trouville, 1870. 80 × 55 cm. Musée d’Orsay.
To signal Trouville’s international flavor, Monet painted the large American flag overhead (summarily, so as to prevent our eye from focusing there), and another, apparently British, beyond the French flag. The flags give a sense of the sea, that is, of its vigorous onshore breeze, a necessary touch, since we see so little of the water. The prominence of the flags also counterbalances the weight of the hotel front (and the shape of the sky under the large flag repeats the shape of the hotel). Unlike the boardwalk picture (Pl. 301), whose open beach is so different from its crowded assemblage of hotels, this painting sets up a rough equality between its left and right sides. The flags, lampposts, and grouped figures form an open vertical plane that offsets the closed plane of the hotel. The monumental brick and stone facade blocks off the land, converting the terrace into something between the deck of a luxury ship and the street of a modern city. The only touch of the past is the crenellated cylinder of the Malakoff Tower beyond the pavilion, a kind of toy castle or architectural mascot for this elaborate social game.
Our plunge into depth is not as rapid as in the boardwalk picture (Pl. 301), and this gives the terrace a more intimate feeling. Nonetheless, the composition is based upon movements which rush inwards from each of its four corners. In the lower-left corner, a woman sits on a folding chair, taking the sun while protecting herself with a parasol and a very full costume. Next to her a man in a grey suit is doffing his hat to two women. All these figures on the left are part of the network of railing and lampposts which together form a rather exact triangle that points back into depth. Precisely halfway across the picture is a woman in pale blue, holding a parasol, coming towards us (Pl. 303). Behind her to our left is another woman, walking away from us, and to the right sits a woman in a peach-colored costume. Lime-green patches, symmetrically disposed on both sides of the central woman, mark potted plants under the pavilion, where a crowd is seated. Closer to us, on the right, a man with a cane is walking idly away, his head turned to the left. This slight movement connects him with the centrally placed woman, an association confirmed by the path of the large shadow that embraces them both. These delicate hints at social relationships are a far cry from Stevens’s more flirtatious encounters in his Trouville picture (Pl. 269) and once again demonstrate the reserve of the impressionist painter and his refusal to engage in anecdote. The man with a cane is the only figure outlined in black, a lastminute touch (in the same paint as the signature) which helps separate him from the adjacent areas. From him our glance moves up the staircase, where two figures mark the steep rise of the railing. On top of the steps is a small group of patrons, and from them our eye continues along the shallow balconies of the main floor, where white urns are easily confused with a few people who are leaning out. A few more lean forward from the balcony and the windows in the extreme upper right.
Description: The Hôtel des Roches Noires, Trouville, detail by Monet, Claude
303. Monet, detail of The Hotel des Roches Noires, Trouville (Pl. 302).
The careful arrangement of all features of this composition is disguised by its “unfinished” texture, by its loosely brushed images which refuse to come into sharp focus. Monet’s picture is a brilliant interpretation of the leisure society of Trouville because of this blending of the well-regulated with the spontaneous. It is the strong, overall pattern which lets the artist get away with his painterly abbreviations. Were it not for the wedge of receding space, the scumbled paint of the terrace would float upwards, and the filmy grey-blue strokes that hover over it, reflecting the sky, would seem only like paint. The prominent curving shadow is not modeled as it recedes, and its adherence to the diagonal is what lets it tilt inwards (aided by the figures that pin it down).
The loose and unmodeled brushwork is also unified by the consistent way Monet used color to convey the effects of sunlight and shadow. In this summer of 1870, following upon the previous summer’s inventive work at Bougival, he was well on his way towards the central innovation of impressionism: the supplanting of modeling in light and dark by a new conception of chromatic harmony. Monet’s shadows take on different colors according to their locations. On the terrace the shadow has a faintly greenish tinge that derives from the nearby foliage; it is also the color opposite of the red flowers. On the white awning the shadow is blue, since the cloth reflects the sky with little alteration. On the facade above the entryway, the diagonal shadow is purplish, the color opposite of the sunstruck yellow. The left side of the painting has predominantly cool colors, the right side, warm ones. Each is punctuated with its opposite, however: the reds of the flags on the left, and the blues that appear as window openings on the right. The hotel facade is alone a miracle of observation and invention: the vertical blue streaks carve out niches among the yellows and dull oranges; subdued rose streaks suggest the brick that we do not otherwise see, and a medley of intermediate browns, olive tans, and purplish tones serves as bass to the brighter trebles.
The Hôtel des Roches Noires takes its place, along with the other Trouville compositions, in the sequence of works that made the young artist one of the chief interpreters of contemporary life in its landscape settings. Between his twenty-sixth and thirtieth years, this gifted artist, matching Manet at the same age, created notable pictures which helped change the direction of French painting. The Garden of the Princess (Pl. 14) is a homage to the expansive mood of the capital during the Universal Exposition of 1867. Vacationers at Sainte-Adresse look out on pleasure boats (Pls. 294, 295) or gather on a flowered terrace, politely deployed to indicate the correct social pattern (Pl. 297), while on the horizon, a fleet of ships gives evidence of maritime prosperity. Paintings of the Grenouillère (Pls. 211, 214) celebrate leisure on the outskirts of the city. The Trouville canvases are a thorough absorption of resort leisure, paintings that relegate the sea to a minor role, while beach, boardwalk, and terrace serve as platforms for vacationers’ performances. They could serve as painted excerpts from that most contemporary of novels, the Goncourts’ Manette Salomon of 1867, in which Coriolis demonstrated his devotion to modernity by painting the beachfront society at Trouville. In painting and literature Trouville was never far from Paris. The Goncourts’ readers were mainly Parisians, and so were those who attended Niniche in 1878, a vaudeville whose first act takes place at Trouville:
Let us take the air on the beach,
And contemplate the Ocean so tranquil.
Ah! If Paris only had the sea,
It would be a little Trouville.31 A collaboration of Alfred Hennequin and Albert Millaud, first performed in 1878. According to Mortier 1875–85, vol. 5, p. 55 and passim, it had 170 performances by mid-summer. The scene in the first act was decorated with bathing cabins, and the performers were dressed in bathing costume; the third act of this trendy play includes jockeys at the racetrack.
“The great building which seems to guard the entrance to Trouville is the Hôtel des Roches Noires,” wrote Katherine Macquoid in 1874. “This is the chief hotel, and the resort of the most gaily dressed of the loungers; it is worth seeing.” She then goes on to say that “There is not so much as a beggar to destroy the illusion. Truly Trouville would have seemed a paradise to that Eastern philosopher who wandered about in search of happiness; and the paradise would last—perhaps till he was called on to pay his hotel bill.”32 Macquoid 1895, p. 317. Monet did nothing to shatter the illusion, and his appeal still today—especially today!—owes much to his creation of this beggarless society, this world in which no labor is shown, this well-ordered landscape in which light and color stand for that longed-for ideal: nature, spontaneity, outdoor pleasures, harmonies of color and of human relationships.
Epilogue: Monet at Pourville and Etretat
In the decade following the summer at Trouville Monet did not paint seaside vacationers. He paid brief visits to the Seine estuary in 1873 and 1874, but his pictures, devoted to boats, harbors, and the shore, give no hint of tourism. This does not mean that he was yet ready to forsake the theme of leisure for, from 1872 to 1878, he gave the pleasure boats, promenades, and gardens of Argenteuil prominent places in his repertoire. Drastic changes were in the offing towards the end of the decade, however. In 1877 and 1878 he painted his last pictures of Paris, including the famous series of the Gare Saint-Lazare. He moved to Vétheuil in 1878 and never again painted Paris or its near suburbs. Camille Monet died in September 1879, after a long illness, and Monet and Alice Hoschedé thenceforth lived together, merging their families. In 1883, after three years at Vétheuil and an interim stay at Poissy, Monet and his enlarged family settled in Giverny, further down the Seine in his beloved Normandy. All these changes coincided with the artist’s virtual abandonment of figure painting. After 1878, except for a few paintings of family and friends, large-scale figures disappear from his easel, along with Paris.
Amidst this reshaping of his life and his work, Monet sought out landscape sites in a new way. Beginning in 1881, he left his studio and family for concentrated periods of several weeks, sometimes months. Alice and the children joined him for the summer of 1882 at Pourville, but usually he went by himself. The first of these tours was along the Channel: Les Petites Dalles in 1880 (again in 1884), Fécamp and the Seine estuary in 1881, Pourville and Varengeville in 1882, Etretat in 1883, 1884, 1885, and 1886. He widened his travels in the middle of the decade, south to Bordighera and Menton in 1884, to Belle-Isle off the Breton coast in 1886, south again to Antibes in 1888, and inland to the Creuse valley in 1889. For most of each year the landscape of Giverny and its environs served as a settled base for these outlying campaigns. Away from home he often sought out dramatic sites that restored some of the images of romanticism, the kind of image that he had avoided in the 1870s. Paintings of Pourville, Varengeville, Etretat, Belle-Isle, and the Creuse valley include isolated rocky promontories (Pl. 304), waves crashing against bizarre rocks or threatening beached fishing boats (Pls. 308, 309, 311), lugubrious valleys illuminated by fitful, wintry sunsets.
Description: The Pyramids at Port-Coton, Belle-Île-en-Mer by Monet, Claude
304. Monet, Rocks at Belle-Isle, 1886. 60 × 73 cm. Copenhagen, Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek.
We do not know the reasons for all these changes in Monet’s subjects after 1878. The death of Camille was a watershed in his life, as was his union with Alice Hoschedé and her bevy of children. Furthermore, Monet reached forty at the end of 1880, an age when many artists begin to reorient their work. These are all possible factors, but they deal with psychology, usually a circular terrain of “explanation” for a painter’s subjects. Surely, the artist’s emotions were deeply engaged in his subjects, but an artist does not live independently of his dealers, his clients, his exhibitions, his thirst for success, all of which form a complicated dialogue with society. The 1880s were the decade of Monet’s rise to great fame and considerable fortune, and his letters reveal his success in manipulating his market. He was anxious about the reception of his successive campaigns of painting, and it is no accident that all his sites along the French coast were tourist spots whose fame preceded their appearance in his dealers’ Parisian showrooms. They were his challenges to fame, to earlier artists like Turner or Courbet, and proof that he could render in memorable form the great landscapes of France (later he undertook London and Venice, as well). That he succeeded is indeed a tribute to his genius, but his work would have disappeared if society had not granted importance to it. One thing is certain: as the decade progressed, Monet’s prices rose dramatically (despite occasional ups and downs), and so did his reputation and his influence. He passed from the status of young rebel to recognized living master. A few remarks on his Channel coast pictures will not suffice for a theory of social value, but they can point to the paths which connect the personal with the social, the unchartable but ever-intriguing realm of an artist’s psyche with the accessible phenomena of acclaim from dealers, collectors, and critics.
In 1882, following short visits to Fécamp and Les Petites Dalles in the previous two years, Monet spent nearly six months at Pourville and Varengeville, just to the west of Dieppe. Of the ninety-six seascapes that resulted from this productive period, only four show tourists. Like Cliff Walk at Pourville (Pl. 305), each of the four has two women looking out over the water. They are the vacationers who take in nature in the recommended fashion, by putting the resort village behind them in order to commune with nature. In the cliff-walk picture, they look out over a flock of pleasure boats, probably one of the regattas organized with vacationers in mind. In contrast to Pierre Outin’s The Look-Out Point (Pl. 306), Monet’s two women merely stand there, figures of detachment whose presence is vital, but who put no specific thoughts in the viewer’s mind. Outin does not let us alone with our thoughts but makes us deal with a busy clifftop society: the well-dressed salt who has lent his telescope to an attractive tourist, her annoying daughter, that wonderful fop admiring his cigar, and, among other figures, the woman in a Norman coiffe peering over the cliff, a local person used by Outin to point up the visitors’ amusing society.33 Outin’s painting, recently on the art market, is almost certainly Sur la falaise, exhibited in the Salon of 1878, no. 1709.
Description: Cliff Walk at Pourville by Monet, Claude
305. Monet, Cliff Walk at Pourville, 1882. 65 × 81 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Mr. & Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection, 1933.443.
Description: The Look-Out Point by Outin, Pierre
306. Pierre Outin, The Look-Out Point, 1878. 59 × 98.5 cm. Collection unknown. Photograph courtesy of Sotheby’s.
This comparison does not deny merit to Outin, a clever story-teller, but redounds to Monet’s credit because he painted for enlightened viewers—and later for us!—who were then discarding the petit bourgeois love of anecdote in favor of a landscape that seems to leave one alone, or nearly so, in front of nature (even if “nature” includes regattas), free to devise one’s own poetic response. Painting and nature become equated in this curious visual fiction in which we observe Monet’s painting as though we were these two women observing the landscape. Increasingly, the alert observer was being schooled by the impressionists to believe that amusing anecdotes were incompatible with the “correct” conception of art and nature, one that combined a certain detachment with an expressive poetry of means. Monet’s agitated brushwork was proof of the sincerity of his personal response to maritime light and wind, proof also of freedom and of individual, inventive genius, those shibboleths of entrepreneurial society. Displaced from the realm of politics and business to this ostensibly pure realm of art and nature, these ideals were all the more powerfully felt. One function of impressionism was, precisely, to praise freedom from restraint, freedom from urban congestion and artificiality, freedom to indulge in poetic feelings for “nature.”
The vacationers who appear in four of Monet’s Pourville paintings were dispensed with in all the other canvases. In the absence of fellow mortals, the viewer assumes the position of an unaccompanied vacationer overlooking the sea. The ideal position of the urban tourist is to be alone, to pretend that one is not part of a throng, that one’s experience is free and unique. This is a myth, of course, for one lives in congested societies, restrained by all manner of conventions. The organizers of industrial societies have needed the myth, and vacations on the seashore are a prime instance of turning it temporarily into reality. Thousands of prosperous Parisians rushed to the seashore, but Monet’s paintings of famous resorts in the 1880s appear to embrace an entirely private experience. Frequently, he cultivated the viewer’s sense of solitude by featuring a detached promontory or an isolated building perched above the sea. He painted seven views of the clifftop church of Varengeville that season and seventeen of the coastguard cabin near Pourville. In The Coastguard’s Cottage at Pourville (Pl. 307), the stone cabin rises from a luxuriant growth of bushes and wild flowers. Its reds and oranges, rendered vivid by the sunny afternoon light, stand out against the water’s greens and blueish purples. The white sails of yachts form an equilateral triangle, complementing the section of sea they occupy as well as the cabin’s gables. The balanced rhythms and intense colors of this picture bespeak mankind’s joy in the harmonies of well-tamed nature.
Description: Fisherman's Cottage on the Cliffs at Varengeville by Monet, Claude
307. Monet, The Coastguard’s Cottage at Pourville, 1882. 61 × 88.3 cm. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Bequest of Anna Perkins Rogers.
An altogether different mood springs from Pourville, Flood Tide (Pl. 308), for Monet knew how to extract a variety of meanings from the same landscape. Comparison of the two paintings shows that it is not “nature” but the artist’s organization of his canvas that produces divergent meanings. No yachts in this other picture, just two fishing boats beating out against wind and tide under a threatening sky (Dieppe harbor is off to the right). Instead of calm water, a roiled-up sea, its odd color a result of the sand and seaweed caught up in the turbulence. No flowers either, but the windswept growth of a headland being besieged by the right ward pounding of the waves, abetted by the left-to-right sweep of our eye. Around the cabin the foliage has been trampled by the watchmen’s pacing. What in the other picture looks like an idyllic vacationer’s cottage here appears to be a lonely holdout against the adverse forces of sea and wind.
Description: Pourville, Flood Tide by Monet, Claude
308. Monet, Pourville, Flood Tide, 1882. 65 × 81 cm. Brooklyn Museum of Art. Gift of Mrs. Horace Havemeyer.
The interrelationships of tourism and lonely seascapes are more easily grasped in Monet’s paintings of Etretat. Pourville and Varengeville were small outposts of Dieppe’s leisure colony, but Etretat, sixteen miles northeast of Le Havre, was a major resort in its own right. Its fame owed initially to its spectacular setting: three promontories that jut out into the Channel, each with an arch pierced through its mass of limestone and flint. Delacroix had painted there, and Courbet had made it something of a specialty. Among notable Parisians who had villas there were Manet’s patron, the singer Faure (who lent his house to Monet in 1885), Maupassant, and Offenbach. Some, like Offenbach, treated Etretat as a northern frontier for Parisian society: he set the village on its ear by giving spectacular parties for his operetta troupes in his “Villa Orphée.” Others, like Michelet, lamented the transformation of the old fishing village and wanted to preserve untainted the experience of its titanic arches.34 For Offenbach, see Kracauer 1937, pp. 155, 197, 279, 307, and for Michelet, his La Mer (1861), pp. 404–407. Monet also may have regretted the advent of tourism, for it is possible that the touristic “Château des Fréfossés” which perched atop the Porte d’Aval (it shows in Pl. 310) was built by 1886 when he painted there; it shows in paintings by Boudin signed and dated 1887, but never in Monet’s pictures. He may have deliberately omitted it, although this remains mere conjecture. The earliest surviving municipal records concerning this absurd conceit, dynamited in 1911, are dated 1891 (communication from Jacques Caumont); researches so far have failed to specify when it was built.
Monet sided with Michelet. His compositions never show tourists, nor even the thriving village itself, only its shorefront and the cliffs beyond. The Cliffs at Etretat (Pl. 309) was painted from the top of the easternmost of the three pierced cliffs, looking over towards the middle portal, the one accompanied by a detached needle rock. From the picture alone we would never guess that the village is immediately below and to the left, filling in the large bay (Pl. 310). In this, and all the other paintings where he might have shown it, he kept the village just off one edge or the other of his canvases. These are really quite extraordinary examples of editorial selection and beg for an explanation—what an artist omits is often a vital clue to his interpretation of a site. Perhaps he felt that the resort was tawdry and regretted the demise of the old village. Certain it is that by eliminating both vacationers and the village, he was expiating the sins of tourism and restoring one’s view of Etretat to its “historic” and “natural” condition of a generation earlier.
Description: The Cliffs at Etretat by Monet, Claude
309. Monet, The Cliffs at Etretat, 1884. 60 × 81 cm. Dr. h.c. Emile Dreyfus-Foundation, Kunstmuseum, Basel.
Description: Etretat towards the Porte d'Aval by Unknown
310. Etretat towards the Porte d’Aval, before 1911. Photograph Roger Viollet.
The only views interior to the village are several which show fishing boats along the gravel beach. Like Boats in Winter Quarters (Pl. 311), these were painted from a window of the Hôtel Blanquet, the oldest of Etretat’s hotels, where Monet usually stayed (from the same windows he painted several views of the central pierced cliff). He was often there out of season, in autumn and winter, another way of distancing himself from vacationers. Boats in Winter Quarters was done in November 1885.35 Letters reprinted in Wildenstein 1974–85, vol. 2, p. 268. Fishing boats have been drawn up above the pounding surf. In the foreground are three caloges, old boat hulks covered in tarred planks which served as storehouses. To the right is the stone building that lets us locate Monet’s vantage point in photographs of the village. We do not require citations from romantic poetry to feel that the agitated sea, the beached boats, and the dark caloges all stand for nature’s forces setting siege to humankind. The planked hulls, huddled together, are especially poignant symbols of the approach of winter. Our empathetic reaction comes not just from the images: the paint moves in slashing streaks and flowing runnels which suggest, without representing, various planks, boat gear, the marks made when boats are winched over the gravel, and the pathways formed by constant foot and wagon traffic.
Description: Boats in Winter Quarters, Etretat by Monet, Claude
311. Monet, Boats in Winter Quarters, Etretat, 1885. 65.5 × 81.3 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago. Charles H. & Mary E.S. Worcester Collection, 1947.95.
The expressive brushwork of this canvas goes well beyond the most freely painted works done earlier in the decade and has a confessional quality that looks forward to Soutine and Pollock. It is quite typical of the pictures of Etretat and Belle-Isle which Monet exhibited in 1887, and was among those that so disconcerted the critic J.-K. Huysmans:
By Claude Monet, a series of tumultuous landscapes, of abrupt and violent seas in ferocious tones… under enraged skies…. The savagery of this painting envisioned by the eye of a cannibal is at first disconcerting, then in face of the force that it reveals, the faith that animates it, the powerful inspiration of the man who brushes it, we fall under the spell of the forbidding attraction of this rough art.36 “L’Exposition internationale de la rue de Sèze,” La Revue indépendante, 3 (June 1887); 352f. The key phrase reads. “La sauvagerie de cette peinture vue par un oeil de cannibale déconcerte d’abord,…”
Van Gogh also admired Boats in Winter Quarters when he saw it in 1887,37 The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, 3 vols. (Greenwich, Conn., 1958), vol. 3, p. 78, letter of 1888 to Theo Van Gogh. and it is easy to see why. Its remarkable brushwork, a kind of free drawing in colored pigment, appealed to the younger artist, as did the emotional nature of the setting. Van Gogh was still subjecting himself to the discipline of Neo-Impressionism in 1887, but the lessons learned from Monet helped him to transform his style the following year at Arles. Because the two artists have been inserted in different historical slots, we do not usually see that they shared a lot in the 1880s. What a contrast Monet’s Etretat and Belle-Isle pictures are to those from Sainte-Adresse and Trouville! The author of The Hôtel des Roches Noires, Trouville (Pl. 301) was a very different artist back in 1870, and everything that picture expressed has been set aside by 1885. No more strollers along the beach, nor fancy hotel terraces, not even a hint that Etretat had been radically altered over the previous century. Contemporary life has surrendered to pre-modern images of sublime nature and old boats, and “the eye of a cannibal” has developed unconventional means to express these altered feelings. Leisure activity is as unthinkable in Monet’s Etretat pictures as it is in most of Van Gogh’s late work, for both artists were aware of the gulf that increasingly separated humans from nature, the nature that they now identified with the non-urban world and therefore with the past.
For Monet and Van Gogh, for Pissarro and Cézanne, the modern city and its life, especially leisure and entertainment, were no longer eligible subjects because their values lay elsewhere. It was not a tranquil perception, for one could not simply walk out in the countryside and forget the urban world and its anxieties. The contrast between the actuality of contemporary life and the ideals of untainted nature led to an agonized awareness. In Monet’s case the contrast is evident in the very choice of sites. At Pourville, Varengeville, Les Petites Dalles, Fécamp, Belle-Isle, and Etretat, he was in landscapes which had been transformed by leisure-seekers, and nonetheless—even from hotel windows!—he produced images of aloneness. He was following the well-beaten trail of vacationers and earlier artists rather than unknown paths, but he was still a mythic figure, a hero who could bring back to the capital’s art galleries “tumultuous landscapes, of abrupt and violent seas.” His paintings helped perpetuate the myth that one could experience nature alone. It is a myth that humankind has needed in the modern era, and this explains, in part, why Monet, Van Gogh, and Cézanne are among the most popular artists the world over: our comprehension of nature consists of a deep yearning, but, since we know how thoroughly we have trampled over it, we respond best to paintings that stir our emotions.
1      Letters of 28 August 1867 and 3 September 1868 to his friend Martin, in Jean-Aubry 1968, pp. 65, 72. Boudin underlined the key phrase: “d’être amenés à la lumière.” »
2      Désert 1983, p. 160. »
3      Guide annuaire 1868, p. 70. »
4      Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in France (London, 1848). »
5      Chapus 1855, p. 262. »
6      Rouillard 1984, pp. 30, 97, 343–44, and passim. It would be difficult to overpraise this excellent book. »
7      Macquoid 1895, p. 316 (written in 1874). »
8      Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 109–11. »
9      Reproduced in Rouillard 1984, p. 43. »
10      Rouillard 1984, pp. 56–63, and passim. »
11      Another of Rouillard’s perspicacious observations. »
12      Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 49–50. »
13      Guide annuaire 1868, p. 53. »
14      Album-guide 1881, p. 64. »
15      Guide annuaire 1868, p. 37, written in 1866. »
16      Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 103–106. »
17      Ambroise Vollard, En Ecoutant parler Cézanne, Degas et Renoir (Paris, 1938), p. 112. »
18      Degas acquired the picture from its first owner, Henri Rouart; Morisot gave Manet the Lorient picture shortly after it was painted. »
19      Chapus 1855, p. 230. Did Monet, later such an avid gardener, derive inspiration from Sainte-Adresse’s famous horticulturalist? »
20      Joanne 1873, p. 46. »
21      See the epigraph at the head of this chapter, and for the parrot villas, Chapus 1855, p. 264: “…bourgeois houses of natty aspect, even with boisterous colors”; “All these houses have the look of parrots; they make the eyes wince.” »
22      Venedey 1841, vol. 1, pp. 43, 178. »
23      See Wildenstein 1974–85, vol. 1, pp. 36–38, and the letters reprinted pp. 423–25. »
24      Rouillard 1984, chs. 4 and 5. »
25      See Wildenstein 1974–85, vol. 1, p. 46. »
26      Guide annuaire 1868, p. 80, lists it among eleven “principal hotels” at Trouville, with room and board pegged at six to seven francs a day. »
27      Guide annuaire 1868, p. 17. »
28      Désert 1983, p. 89. »
29      Guide annuaire 1868, pp. 75–78. »
30      Album-guide 1881, p. 58. »
31      A collaboration of Alfred Hennequin and Albert Millaud, first performed in 1878. According to Mortier 1875–85, vol. 5, p. 55 and passim, it had 170 performances by mid-summer. The scene in the first act was decorated with bathing cabins, and the performers were dressed in bathing costume; the third act of this trendy play includes jockeys at the racetrack. »
32      Macquoid 1895, p. 317. »
33      Outin’s painting, recently on the art market, is almost certainly Sur la falaise, exhibited in the Salon of 1878, no. 1709. »
34      For Offenbach, see Kracauer 1937, pp. 155, 197, 279, 307, and for Michelet, his La Mer (1861), pp. 404–407. Monet also may have regretted the advent of tourism, for it is possible that the touristic “Château des Fréfossés” which perched atop the Porte d’Aval (it shows in Pl. 310) was built by 1886 when he painted there; it shows in paintings by Boudin signed and dated 1887, but never in Monet’s pictures. He may have deliberately omitted it, although this remains mere conjecture. The earliest surviving municipal records concerning this absurd conceit, dynamited in 1911, are dated 1891 (communication from Jacques Caumont); researches so far have failed to specify when it was built. »
35      Letters reprinted in Wildenstein 1974–85, vol. 2, p. 268. »
36      “L’Exposition internationale de la rue de Sèze,” La Revue indépendante, 3 (June 1887); 352f. The key phrase reads. “La sauvagerie de cette peinture vue par un oeil de cannibale déconcerte d’abord,…” »
37      The Complete Letters of Vincent van Gogh, 3 vols. (Greenwich, Conn., 1958), vol. 3, p. 78, letter of 1888 to Theo Van Gogh. »
7. At the Seaside
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