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When painters go to the beach

Albert Edelfelt, Peder Krøyer, Joaquin Sorolla, Edmund Charles Tarbell,... these are just a few examples of 19th century painters who wanted and knew how to capture beach scenes. Most of them represent children and their often naked bodies stand out against the intense blue of the sea in the innocence of their games. For many of them, these artists knew each other. Edelfelt made several stays in Valencia and copied paintings by Sorolla, who himself was influenced by Krøyer.

At the very least, they had seen certain works by their contemporaries on the occasion, in particular, of universal exhibitions, such as those of 1889 and 1900.

Close to the style of Manet and the naturalism of Jules Bastien-Lepage, whose posthumous exhibition in 1885 Krøyer visited, these painters delivered canvases that were surprisingly similar in their composition, their approach to bold colors and intense light.

Let's explore them...

Joaquin Sorolla. Niños en el mar - Playa de Valencia. 1908 .
Joaquin Sorolla. Niños en el mar - Playa de Valencia. 1908 . Sotheby's London. Auction 2011

In this painting by the Spaniard Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923), in full sunlight, the boy in the front row seems to be contemplating the artist, shielding his eyes, his ocher reflection cast on the glistening sand uncovered by the sea. His companions wade through the waves formed by a wind that we guess violent. The gradation of colors is straightforward, blue streaked with brown in the foreground, deep green and lighter in contrast, in the background on which a sailboat completes the diagonal formed by the children in the composition.

Peder Severin Krøyer, "Attendez-nous !", 1892, Skagen, SkagensKunstmuseer (© Art Museums of Skagen)
Peder Severin Krøyer, "Attendez-nous !", 1892, Skagen, SkagensKunstmuseer (© Art Museums of Skagen)

The Danish painter Peder Krøyer (1851-1909) shows daily life on the beach in Skagen, with children playing and bathing. Inverse color effect compared to Sorolla's painting, the shades of green are at the base, and widen towards pastel blue tones. As a boundary line, Krøyer uses the splashes caused by the running of the two naked boys whose movement is captured like a photographic snapshot.

Vincent Van Gogh. Bateaux de pêche aux Saintes Maries. 1888
Edmund Charles Tarbell. Fille au voilier. 1899.

In this painting by the American Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938), it is all the calm innocence of a young girl dressed in a white dress streaked with blue that shines through. Shades of blue and white taken up in the evocation of the sea which carries proud sailboats in counterpoint to the scale model delicately launched by the child. It is the ocher of the land that forms the horizon, with in the distance the presence of a canal betrayed by the sails of the two boats whose hulls we cannot see.

Albert Edelfelt. Enfants au bord de l'eau. 1884
Albert Edelfelt. Enfants au bord de l'eau. 1884

These young boys playing on the beach are a work of Albert Edelfelt (1854-1905). This Finnish painter represents a calm sea at sunset. Three boys look at a model boat, surprisingly similar to the one painted above by Tarbell. If the raking light remains bright, the colors fade with the arrival of dusk. Ocher and golden tones dominate while the transparency of a smooth sea releases the shape of the rocks.

In his art history lectures, Fabrice Roy combines the past with the present, in a poetic and playful evocation of the French 19th century...


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