Paul Guigou was the leading representative of the Provençal school of landscape painters in France before his contemporary Paul Cézanne overtook him in fame. Guigou's great promise was cut short by a fatal stroke in 1871, when he was only thirty-seven. Born near Apt in the Vaucluse region of southern France, Guigou trained in Marseille and Paris but remained devoted to his home region of Provence. He worked primarily along the river Durance (which runs about ten miles north of Aix-en-Provence), near the towns of L'Isle-sur-Sorgue and La Roque d'Anthéron, depicting the rough, rocky landscape of the area with its sunbleached crags and wide blue skies. He exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon.
Washerwomen on the Banks of the Durance, painted in 1866, when the artist was at the height of his powers, is a work fully characteristic of Guigou. It shows a group of local washerwomen, wrapped against the heat of the sun, at work on the riverbank. But the true subjects are the harsh southern light and the Provençal landscape. In a noticeably austere composition, we see a broad sweep of the Durance as it rounds a bend, the arid alluvial plain, and the edge of the Lubéron mountain range at left, all spread out under a brilliant blue sky.
Guigou was one of a generation of French landscape painters at midcentury who, reacting against the political centralization and cultural domination of Paris, asserted their provincial identity and autonomy by celebrating their local landscapes and ways of life. The example of Gustave Courbet's regionalist realism lies behind this movement, and indeed, Guigou was friendly with Courbet's greatest patron, Alfred Bruyas, whose collection he frequented in the nearby town of Montpellier. Guigou's manner of painting is strong and heavily impasted, a painterly equivalent for the typically rugged Provençal terrain that he favored. This rough and textured surface came to exemplify a "Provençal" style of painting, which was soon adapted and refined by Cézanne—as, for example, in the National Gallery's Houses in Provence: The Riaux Valley near L'Estaque, c. 1883. Guigou's spare composition and bold palette of ocher and blue influenced another young contemporary painter from Montpellier, Frédéric Bazille (1841–1870), as seen in the Gallery's The Ramparts at Aigues-Mortes, 1867.
lower left: Paul Guigou. 66.
Félix Perrin, Grenoble. probably (sale, Marseille, 7-9 December 1926). (Eric Turquin, Paris); purchased 29 June 2007 by NGA.
- Exposition d'art provençal de la Société vauclusienne des Amis des Arts, Palais des Papes, Avignon, 1911, no. 410, as Bord de Durance.
- Exposition coloniales, Marseille, 1922, no. 833, as La Durance.
- Paul Guigou (1834-1871), Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille, Musée Marmottan-Monet, Paris, 2004-2005.
- Conisbee, Philip. "Paul Guigou, Washerwomen on the Banks of the Durance." National Gallery of Art Bulletin, no. 37 (Fall 2007): 16-17, repro.