Made it to the Beach
Well, sort of. Friday I managed to catch the Boudin show at the National Gallery. It was smaller than I expected, and so were the paintings. Maybe there are some bigger ones somewhere but these were all small. I thought of him out there with his gear on those windy Atlantic beaches, and you'd want to paint small, I imagine. In the beach paintings where there is the least bit of sunlight the sand is almost the color of clotted cream, and I love looking at it just for that. And then on the sand, between the sea and the sky, these wonderful shapes of figures. Not much color, and there's rarely a sunny day. But what an effect a few black umbrellas can have, or three young peasant women wearing red petticoats, dark blue skirts and big white headscarves. There's only ever just that the odd little bit of intense color but the rest of the painting just organizes itself around that bit of color and those simple shapes so nicely. And they seem unpretentious and without drama, not even tranquil, just sort of stolid, almost unimaginative. If you had seen him out there on the beach you might have taken him for a sort of duffer, a producer of tourist art, maybe. But the paintings I liked best seemed so simple and unassuming, and the sea and light are of the actual sea, not some romantic fantasy of the sea -- not "effects" but observation of the most matter-of-fact kind.
The paintings of boats at anchor don't do much for me. They really do look like tourist art, but that might not be his fault.
What I liked best were the paintings of figures on the beach. (This one's from the National Gallery in London, not DC, by the way) but you get the idea. The beach doesn't look very comfortable, but here are all these ladies with their big full skirts and their umbrellas, the bathing-machines, the chairs. It's windy but the waves aren't very big, it's probably damp, sand blowing on you if it isn't damp, and here are all these people who can't stay away, in their little islands of comfort on the sand.