This small panel records a bright but cloudy day as a group of well-dressed visitors gather around a flagpole on the sandy beach at Trouville on the Normandy coast. While we cannot see their faces, their poses and gestures suggest animated conversation. Boudin’s free and spontaneous handling of the paint creates a sense of atmospheric freshness.
The misty blue of the sky and the brown tones of the sand are enlivened with touches of colour in the costumes: white stands out in the dress in the centre, and bright red and blue highlights are scattered among the figures to each side. The seated figures to the left suggest comparison with Monet’s The Beach at Trouville, also in the National Gallery’s collection. That picture was painted while Monet was working alongside Boudin in the summer of 1870, and may show Boudin’s wife seated beside Madame Monet. Boudin’s painting and his Beach Scene, Trouville of 1870–74, also in the National Gallery, belonged to Monet.
Boudin grew up on the Normandy coast, and retained an affection for its breezy seascapes, spending some time painting there each summer. Although he began his artistic career as a marine painter, he found a ready market for his rapidly executed small paintings of beach scenes featuring crowds of holidaymakers. The majority of them depict Trouville, which by the mid nineteenth century had developed from a fishing village into a fashionable holiday resort. Of the 11 paintings Boudin exhibited at the Paris Salon between 1864 and 1869, nine of them showed Trouville.
Here, a group of well-dressed visitors gather around a flagpole on Trouville’s famous sandy beach. We see them from a distance, rather than close-up, and they are arranged across the sand, some sitting and some standing, like figures in a frieze. Boudin has chosen not to show their faces, but their poses and gestures suggest animated conversation. Between the misty blue of the sky and the brown tones of the sand, an emphatic white dress is visible in the centre, with touches of bright red and blue among the figures to each side.
This work records a bright but cloudy day – the overcast sky blends gently into the sea. Boudin was fascinated by changing weather and light conditions and made numerous pastel studies of skies on the Seine estuary that were much admired by the poet Charles Baudelaire. Characteristic of Boudin’s approach are the delicate broken brushstrokes, which create a sense of atmospheric freshness.
Boudin was Monet’s mentor and close friend, recognising his talent and encouraging him to paint in the open air. In the summer of 1870 the two painters were working side by side at Trouville, and the seated figures to the left of this painting suggest comparison with Monet’s The Beach at Trouville produced that year, which may show Boudin’s wife dressed in black seated beside Monet’s wife. Monet evidently liked Boudin’s painting, as he bought it along with another Boudin in the National Gallery’s collection, Beach scene, Trouville 1870–4.
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