“While the Impressionists have been popularly celebrated for generations, this exhibition introduces aspects of their work not often explored,” said Daniel Finamore, PEM’s Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History. “Rather than viewing Impressionism as a moment of schism and revolution, we see how artists handled maritime subject matter from the birth of the movement, through its creative evolution and the lasting impact of the Impressionists’ vision of the sea in art.”
Through this exhibition, we gain an appreciation for the inherent sensitivity that Impressionist artists showed for both the qualities of water and the appearance of the boats. Not weighed down by history, they painted what they saw and articulated it as a wholly modern subject. The juxtaposition of paintings and models allow us to observe how the artists interpreted forms of specific boats, as well as appreciate how that interpretation varied from more traditional maritime art of the day.
Artists and sailors
The faithful representation of watercraft – apparent despite the freehandedness of technique – owes much to the artists’ accomplishments as sailors and yachtsmen spending many hours at sea, on riverboats, leisure craft and floating studios.
Among the most skilled was Gustave Caillebotte. A sailor, boat designer and successful racer, he depicted the watercraft and nautical conditions he experienced at his family’s estate on the banks of the Seine. Caillebotte is considered France’s most successful yachtsman-artist of the 19th century, responsible for the design and creation of nearly 25 boats. He depicted his boating prowess in his 1893 work, Regatta at Argenteuil – himself at the helm, striking a nonchalant pose as he steers the sailboat’s tiller with remarkable ease, using just a fingertip.
Inspired by the example of Charles-François Daubigny’s floating studio, Monet built his own studio boat in the mid-1870s to be ever closer to the water. The vessel, depicted at its mooring in his 1874 painting, gave the artist a near-waterline perspective of the landscape, and the atmospheric conditions of the river environment. That singular perspective – a framing of light, water and sky – is celebrated throughout this exhibition.