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Louis-Eug?ne-Gabriel Isabey, 1803-1886

Fishing Boats

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

Louis-Gabriel- Eugène Isabey was the son of the artist Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767-1855), best remembered for his portrait miniatures of personalities attached to the courts of Napoleon and Charles X. The elder Isabey's technical refinement and gracious interpretations of his sitters earned him a large and socially elect following of patrons. However, at first Eugène showed no inclination to follow his father's profession, and it remains a question whether he learned anything more than the rudiments of technique, which he must have observed during studio visits. At any event, by the age of twenty-one, he was confident enough to submit several marine views and landscapes to the Salon of 1824, where he was awarded a first-class medal. Isabey exhibited at the Salons with some regularity throughout his career, not only land- and seascapes but scenes of contemporary events such as the reception of King Louis-Philippe by Queen Victoria aboard her yacht in the French harbor of Tréport during a state visit in 1843 or costume pieces illustrating incidents from earlier French history, such as his 1850-51 Salon entry Episode du mariage d'Henri IV. The following year Isabey was awarded the insignia of an officer of the Légion d'honneur. Isabey was not only a successful artist but a teacher as well; among his pupils were Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891) and Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), artists whose work anticipates the impressionist movement. In spite of his undeniable importance, Isabey's art has remained inadequately studied.1

It is difficult to identify Isabey's earliest paintings and watercolors, but contemporary critics commented on their "Anglo-Venetian" character, evidently in reference to his naturalistic subjects and vivid colors. The impact of British artists on Isabey's work from the 1820s is not surprising since travel between the two countries increased following the collapse of France's First Empire in 1814. Among British artists studying in Paris, the most significant for Isabey was Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1835), who by 1819 was enrolled in the studio of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), where he remained until 1822. Isabey may have met Bonington through the print publisher Charles Nodier, for whom both artists worked at this time; earlier, Isabey had traveled with Nodier to England and Scotland.2 There is no doubt that Isabey and Bonington worked together, frequently traveling to the French ports and coastal towns in Normandy. In the summer of 1825, Isabey was in London, where he saw Bonington and Eugène Delacroix, and the three artists returned to France in August, working together at Saint-Omer on the Normandy coast.3

A number of Bonington's paintings and watercolors are coastal or river scenes showing country people going about their everyday tasks of wresting a living from the soil or water. The British artist's refined color sense and luminous atmospheric effects had a profound impact on French artists. Long after Bonington's death, his influence can still be felt in works such as this 1862 watercolor of fishing boats. Although executed with a brighter palette than Bonington would have used, the clear, crisp atmosphere of this beach scene recalls the British watercolorist's work. Victor Carlson

1. The most extensive study of Isabey and his art is P. Miquel, Eugène Isabey, 1803 - 1886: La marine au xixe scle, 2 vols. (Maurs-le-Jolie, 1980), with a very incomplete catalogue of the artist's work; neither Isabey watercolor in this exhibition is cited.

2. P. Noon, Richard Parkes Bonington: "On the Pleasure of Painting" (New Haven, 1991), 10-11, and Miquel 1980, 241.

3. Noon 1991, 47, 240.

Medium: watercolor heightened with white and gum on moderately thick, slightly textured, cream wove paper
Dimensions: height: 19.5 cm, width: 34.5 cm.
Date: 1862
Category: marine
Subject: Weather | transportation
Inscriptions and Markings: "E. Isabey 62" in lower left in brown ink; "N 6" in graphite at the center, verso
Exhibition History: Eug?ne Isabey, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, MA, 1967, no 29; Jongkind and the Pre-Impressionists, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, MA, 1976-77, no. 80, p. 121; From Delacroix to C?zanne: French Watercolor Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century, University of Maryland Art Gallery, circulating exhibition, October 26, 1977-May 14, 1978, no. 96, p. 151, 153
Bibliography: Collection of W.T. Walters: Pictures. Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery. 1884. Gruelle, Richard B. Notes: Critical and Biographical: Collection of W.T. Walters. Indianapolis: Bowles. 1895.: p. 180. Walters Art Gallery. The Walters Collection. Baltimore: Friedenwald Co.. 1903. Cunningham, Charles Crehore. Jongkind and the Pre-Impressionists. Williamstown, MA: Sterling and Francine Clark Institute of Art. 1977.: p. 121. Fogg Art Museum. Eug?ne Isabey: Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Lithographs. Cambridge, MA.: Fogg Art Museum. 1967.: n.p.. De Leiris, Alain and Carol Hynning Smith. From Delacroix to C?zanne: French Watercolor Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century. College Park: University of Maryland. 1977.: pp. 151 & 153.
Provenance: William T. Walters (1819-1894), Baltimore, before 1884.
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
Credit Line: Acquired by William T. Walters
Object Number: WAM 37.888