Painting Outdoors

The Beach at Villerville Eugène Boudin, The Beach at Villerville, 1864, 1963.10.4

By the middle of the century it had become common practice to work out-of-doors, or en plein air. New types of paint containers allowed greater mobility, so artists could set up easels outside and paint from direct observation of nature. Painters traveled to scenic towns and beaches, such as those on the Normandy coast or along the Seine, where they were captivated by skies and water. They painted sites in varying weather conditions and bathed in different types of light.

Eugène Boudin was particularly masterful in his maritime depictions at Deauville and Trouville, Normandy beach resorts. His vignettes, set beneath atmospheric and pulsating skies, influenced many artists, including Claude Monet, who worked with him on the Normandy coast in the summer of 1865. Courbet, too, saw these coastal scenes and undertook his own marine series, infusing his works with spontaneity and often painting with a brusqueness synchronized with irregular oceanic conditions. He had been a pioneering figure for his unapologetic portrayals of common people and places on a grandiose scale, as well as his daring painterly style, and his focus on the mercurial atmosphere of the coast was another testament of his commitment to realism.

Coast of Brittany Sainte-Adresse The Black Rocks at Trouville