Beginning in the 1830s, some small fishing villages accommodated tourists from France and England. The beaches at Etretat, Deauville, and Trouville were the most popular. Bathers—in voluminous clothes to protect against the sun and to maintain a sense of modesty—immersed themselves in the water. Ladies were carried out on long sofas called divans. Actual swimming did not catch on until later, when other, more competitive activities like rowing and boating also became popular.
Eugène Boudin began to paint tourist scenes in 1862; the next year, a new rail line opened from Paris to Trouville-Deauville, making travel to these resorts much easier. Beach vacationers were unconventional subjects for an artist at that time. Seascapes, if they had figures, were more typically staffed by fishermen or peasant washerwomen. While many of Boudin's paintings depict fashionable vacationers on the beach or promenade, several present the daily activities of the local inhabitants who made such leisurely pursuits possible. Scenes of ships at sea and harbor festivals, as well as washerwomen, fishermen, and sailors at work, all remind the viewer that the English Channel was the economic and social lifeblood of these communities long before the rise of tourism.
Artists came to the Channel coast seaside for the opportunity to paint scenic locales. Views painted by artists "advertised" Normandy's attractions, and tourists’ enjoyment of local sites, facilitated by easy railroad access, in turn increased demand for landscape painting.
Both artists Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet were born in Normandy, but almost every notable artist in 19th-century France worked there (some into the 20th century): Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Henri Rousseau, Jean-Francois Millet, Gustave Courbet, Charles-Francois Daubigny, Édouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, and Georges Seurat. Their diversity of styles provides a chance to investigate the influence of tourism and the rise of plein-air (French for "open air") painting. Present the slide show below featuring drawings and paintings of the Channel coast, and have students analyze the impact of tourism along this coastline throughout the 19th and into the 20th century:
- Describe the various activities the figures are engaged in. What time of day is it? What is the weather like? What signs of modern life do you see?
- How does the painting style influence your perception of the scenery? Do the brushstrokes add to a sense of movement? Are the colors bright or subdued? Are the figures detailed and realistic or generalized?
- Explore the works of art as a series of ratios: what is the ratio of sky to water to land? Of natural to human elements? Of permanent to temporary elements? What do these ratios tell you about the subject(s)—and about what the artist was most interested in?
- Many of these scenes are painted during a period referred to in history as “Belle Epoque,” or “beautiful age.” What major events were taking place in Europe in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries? In America?
Slide Show: Drawings and Paintings of the Channel Coast