A display of  the Nautical Art Works

Of the Impressionists Painters

By Iride Aparicio

Images Credit: Legion Of Honor Museum, S.F.


GUSTAVE CAILLEBOTTE    Régates a Argenteuil

SAN FRANCISCO, CAPeople sailing, rowing boats or yachting, on rivers, lakes, and at sea was a familiar sight in France in l893. So, it is not surprising that in their depictions on nature, the Impressionists extended their artistic vocabulary to water and all things nautical.

For those interested in nautical-themes paintings, a broad collection of  oil-on-canvass works done by the principal artists dating from pre-Impressionists (COROT DAUBIGNY)  through  Impressionists (CAILEBOTTE, MANET, MONET, PISSARRO and RENOIR) to  neo- and Post Impressionists  (SEURAT, and  SIGNAC) can now be seen in IMPRESSIONISTS ON THE WATERthe exhibition that opened on June 1st at the Museum of  THE LEGION OF HONOR in San Francisco, organized in conjunction with America’s Cup Challenger Series and as a complement of this summer’s races on the Bay.  

The exhibition celebrates the French Impressionists’ fascination with recreation and competitive sailing (a developing sport in the 19th century France) where sailing, yachting and rowing played essential roles in the art and lives of many of these artists who painted nautical subjects in vibrant colors and light-infused compositions.

EUGENE BOUDIN (French l824-l898)      Dunkirk          

EUGÈNE LOUIS BOUDIN, considered the formative influence on the young CLAUDE MONET, was one of the first French painters to paint outdoors and experiment painting the sea. Being the son of a harbor pilot, BOUDIN was familiar with the sea. He had worked on a steamboat that ran between La Havre and Honfleur at age 10, and later, when his father retired and opened a shop, he became familiar with the painters that exhibited their pictures there. At the age of 22, young BOUDIN won an scholarship that earn him enough to move to Paris and start painting full-time.

His paintings were influenced by the 17th century Dutch masters (whose pictures reproduced what they saw with exactitude) among them JOHAN JONGKIND, the artist who advised him to paint “en plein air” (in the air) meaning outdoors.

Dunkirk, (Shown above)  was painted at the height of his success and shows BOUDIN’s  mastery in  composition. He uses the boats (on the left) standing in perspective from big to small, to move the eye to the vanishing point in the background. marked by a tall chimney, while the row of houses, on the right, form the other converging line. When  both lines meet, they form the apex of the “perfect triangle” of all classic paintings. In this particular painting, the artist chose it to delineate the lines in dark green color on both sides to make it more obvious.

The colors in this painting are bright, with the sails in the sail boats more grayish than white  and some of the clouds, floating over a bright blue sky, shaded. Most houses are painted yellow and all have red roofs. Every single item in this picture was painted with realism: the sailing boats’ masts, their sails, even their ropes and flags. Even the motor boats below the sailing ships, where each one of them is painted individually. There is detail in the houses, also, showing their windows and their individual chimneys on their roofs. A beautiful effect in this painting, is the water's reflection of the clouds' formation on the sky.

In contrast with the BOUDIN’s painting, is the painting by the name of Oarsmen at Chatou, (which is shown below)  painted by PIERRE AUGUSTE RENOIR in either l875 or l879.

In subject and style, BOUDIN's painting may be considered  a better representation of the  impressionist art movement becaur it fits its requirements: The scene, is contemporary for the time when sailing was a common sport of the rich French. Ita colors are bright, and it uses short brush strokes.  Approaching a small boat, is a well-dressed couple, being helped by two men, one standing holding the boat for them, the other, dressed in shirt and pants ready to do  the rowing  for them.

The oil-on-canvass  painting shows that most of it was painted with brush strokes. With the short brush strokes, used mainly to create the effect of the water by the use of colors, in shades of blue, white pink and grey. More short brush strokes were used to create the effect of the grass on the river banks and the blue flowers.  Longer strokes were use to create the boat's sails, and the clothes of the people. Longer brush lines to create the boats and the roofs of the houses.  

       PIERRE AUGUSTE RENOIR      Oarsmen at Chatou l875-l879

RENOIR’s picture may be interpreted as the impression of what he was looking at. From the distance, the scene looks complete, but if we observed it carefully we realized  that it is RENOIR's own interpretation of reality.


The 19th Century art movement known with the name of  Impressionism was born in France, in the years l874 when a group of painters, sculptors, graphic art artist and printers calling themselves THE ANONYMOUS SOCIETY OF PAINTERS, organized an art exhibition in Paris.

Their  exhibition was in no way related to the annual exhibition from the ACADÉMEE DES BEUX ARTS  SALON EXHIBITION, where a jury of artists selected all the art works to be exhibited, according to their specified aesthetic rules, and awarded them medals.

The technique used by the Members of the SOCIETY in their paintings, did not follow the rules established by the ACADÉMEE. To start with, these painters depicted their subjects in series of short strokes, often using the effect of light and shadow. They also brought color the their paintings with some artists evem choosing not to apply the thick golden varnish they used to tone down their colors. When first exhibited, the diverse approach of the paintings of the members of the ANONYMOUS SOCIETY  was called “unfinished” by the French critics because of their sketch like appearance.

 CLAUDE MONET        Regatta at Argenteuil l874           Oil on Canvass 

During the l874 exhibition, Impression Sunrise another picture painted by MONET, was called by Art Critic LOUIS LEROY “a sketch or an impression,” to suggest that Monet’s picture as exhibited  was not yet finished. Since then, the name of impressionism was adopted by the people, to describe that particular style of painting.  

The differences in the impressionists  artists’ styles of painting their nautical themes, makes IMPRESSIONISTS ON WATER exhibition educational by given its visitors  the unique opportunity to compare the different techniques used by each artist to depict his vessels, his sail boats,  his canoes, his flowers, his people, his rivers, hi lakes and his oceans on his canvass. Which in itself, may be fascinating to many.
IMPRESSIONIST ON WATER was originally conceived by PHILLIP DENNIS CATE (former Director of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University) renown marine historian DANIEL CHARLES and further expanded upon by CHRISTOPHER LLOYD (former Surveyor of the Queen Elizabeth II’s collection).

The exhibition includes highlights from the Museum’s permanent collection with loans from THE MUSÉE d’ ORSAY, in Paris, THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART in Washington DC, the NATIONAL MUSEUM in Stockholm, and the KRÖLLER-MÜLLER MUSEUM, Otterlo, The Netherlands, among other notable institutions.

The Legion of Honor museum is located at 100 34th Avenue in S.F.  For tickets information and Museum’s hours  one can call at (415) 750-3000 or go online to