Washerwomen by the River
Oil on panel
26.2 x 36.2 cm
Bequest of Alfred Schwabacher, Munich, Zurich, and New York, through the America-Israel Cultural Foundation
Accession number: B74.0387
Eugène Boudin’s exceptional ability to observe and record the fleeting effects of nature earned him a place as a precursor of the Impressionists. Though in palette and technique he remained within the tradition pioneered by Corot, Boudin’s broad brushwork, exclusion of detail, and use of modern themes, were a seminal influence on the younger generation. Claude Monet credited him as his mentor; repeatedly declaring “I owe everything to Boudin.”
As a young man Boudin made the acquaintance of several painters of the Romantic and Barbizon schools in his stationer’s shop in Le Havre. Millet corrected his early sketches. Corot, Courbet, and Daubigny would later offer valuable advice. In 1847, when he decided to devote himself to painting, his sojourns to Paris afforded an opportunity to study the Dutch seventeenth-century masters. Perhaps the most fruitful exchange, however, was with Johann Barthold Jongkind, who shared Boudin’s interest in the ever-changing fluctuations of light, and an all-enveloping atmospheric effect. The two worked together in 1862.
The antithesis of the fashionable ladies in his beach scenes were his depictions of laundresses, which first entered his repertoire in the 1860s as an adjunct to his views of ports. By 1878 he was focusing on these hard-working women, seen from close by. As few sketches of them exist, Boudin evidently painted these works directly in oil, usually on panel, which he preferred to canvas. This straightforward, unpremeditated approach may account for the fresh, spontaneous aspect of works such as Washerwomen by the River. As in most of the paintings on this theme, the figures are seen from behind. Standing or kneeling with bent backs, they scrub, beat, or rinse their laundry at the river’s edge, their clothesbaskets near at hand. These sturdy women, in their bonnets and aprons, are most likely the wives of the seamen, whose ships appear on the horizon. Intent on their task, they are oblivious to the golden light of the setting sun that is reflected in the clouds and the river.