Fishing for Oysters at Cancale

Fishing for Oysters at Cancale. John Singer Sargent. 1878. Oil on canvas, 40.96 x 60.96 cm (16 1/8 x 24 inches). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (35.708) Gift of Miss Mary Appleton. Click on image to enlarge it.

Commentary by Janet Comey on the Museum of Fine Arts website

In 1877 the twenty-one year old Sargent spent the summer in Cancale on the coast of Brittany sketching fisherfolk. He sent his first completed painting, “Fishing for Oysters at Cancale,” a finished sketch, to New York for display at the newly-formed, avant garde Society of American Artists from March 6 to April 5, 1878. Sargent submitted the second painting, “Oyster Gatherers of Cancale” (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), a larger, more finished version of the same subject, to the 1878 Paris Salon, where it was awarded an Honorable Mention. Critics praised “Fishing for Oysters at Cancale,” the first Sargent painting to be exhibited in America, for its silvery hue and almost palpable marine atmosphere. Samuel Colman, a landscape painter twenty-fours years Sargent’s senior, bought it for $200 as a standard to emulate. Sargent’s choice of subject was not revolutionary - a similar scene of oyster harvesters had previously won a medal at the Salon. However, his ability to paint the reflections in the tidal pools and the light sparkling on the figures and clouds dazzled viewers, clearly demonstrating that his talents extended beyond portraiture.

[This paragraph has been adapted from the author's entry in Impressionism Abroad: Boston and French Painting, the catalogue of a 2005 Royal Academy exhibition. — George P. Landow]

Last modified 26 May 2016