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Channel Coast Postcards

Grade Level: 9-10    

Curriculum Connections: History/Social Studies; Language Arts; Geography

Students will be introduced to several works of art created along the Channel coast of northern France along with recent film footage of the area. With these visual tools, students will analyze the impact of tourism throughout the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Then, they will write a postcard where they travel back in time to one of the locales of the Channel coast depicted in the paintings below. Finally, they will use family vacation photos to create an image for a modern-day postcard depicting how leisure time is spent today.

boudin

Eugène Boudin
French, 1824–1898
Jetty and Wharf at Trouville, 1863
oil on wood, 34.8 x 58 cm (13 11/16 x 22 13/16 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon

Materials

  • SMART Board or computer with ability to project images from slide show and short online film
  • 5” x 7” index card (or cardstock paper)
  • Drawing or painting supplies
  • Writing materials

Warm-Up Question

How is this painting similar/different from beach scenes you are used to?

Background

Before 1750, Europeans were not interested in spending time at the seaside; oceans were considered dangerous necessities of commerce and transportation, fishing, and war. It was in England that large numbers of people first began to enjoy the beach.  Many early English beachgoers flocked to Normandy, France, just across the English Channel. This was just one changing aspect of a long-standing history between England and France, from the 11th century Norman conquest of England to the 14th- through 15th-century Hundred Years' War between the two nations.

The works of art in this lesson were created along this coast:

channel-coast-map

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.

Guided Practice

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

After students have analyzed life along the coast during the 19th and early 20th centuries through works of art, present the short film below, Sights and Sounds of the Channel Coast. Students should consider how the following items have changed or remain the same:

  • Activities—both leisure and work
  • Modes of transportation
  • Dress
  • Items on the beach
  • Shape of the coastline and cliffs

Film: Sights and Sounds of the Channel Coast

Activity

Students will select one work of art from the slideshow and imagine they have time traveled to this place and time. They will write a postcard to a friend or family member describing their time spent on the beach as if in the 19th or early 20th century. Are they walking along Corot’s deserted beach? Washing laundry on the shore? Taking a break from sailing or going to a seaside concert? Students should include a detailed description of what they are wearing, the sites they see, conversations (if other people are in their painting), what mode of transportation they used to get there, and their main purpose for being on the shore. After students have written the back of their postcard, they will then create an image for the front inserting themselves into their painting per their description. 

Extension

Students will use a personal photo from a family vacation as inspiration to create a postcard that would give someone in the future an idea of how leisure time is spent in the 21st century in your state or country. 

National Core Arts Standards

VA: Cn11.1.HSI Describe how knowledge of culture, traditions, and history may influence personal responses to art.

VA:Pr6.1.HSII Make, explain, and justify connections between artists or artwork and social, cultural, and political history

VA:Re7.1.HSI Hypothesize ways in which art influences perception and understanding of human experiences.

VA:Re8.1.HSI Interpret an artwork or collection of works, supported by relevant and sufficient evidence found in the work and its various contexts

More Lessons in this Unit

Related Resources

Download or borrow the Picturing France teaching packet and accompanying Classroom Guide about 19th century painting in France

Play the NGAKids Sea Saws interactive

View the online feature “Eugene Boudin at the National Gallery of Art” to learn more about his coastal paintings and read descriptions from the time period

Learn how the impressionists began painting out-of-doors in the online feature “The Beginnings of Impressionist Landscape”

Teacher Workshops

Register for evening and weekend teacher professional development workshops and apply to participate in the summer teacher institute