The Boat Builder's Yard, Cancale, Brittany

A scene in a boat builder's yard at Cancale, Brittany, on the north-west coast of France. Brittany had many beach boatyards of the kind portrayed. In the foreground to the right, a girl with strong facial features sits in profile gazing to the left on a carpenter's bench. She wears traditional local dress of a blue serge skirt, grey-and-white-striped chemise and white head-dress, with sabots (wooden clogs) on her feet. The knitting she holds has fallen to her knee and her gaze straight ahead and out of the picture space implies that this not her main interest. On the ground lie tools of the boat-builder's trade; a pit-saw part-visible to the left of the bench, a pitch-ladle leaning against the jaw of the bench-vice, and a side-axe and adze on the chippings below. The ground is covered by wood shavings and, to the left, randomly scattered timber off-cuts. Immediately behind the girl the wood has been ordered into a low fence, acting as a barrier, and beyond this a fishing boat stands partly constructed in frame, in port bow view, supported by light timber shores.

The artist has demonstrated a concern with progress through the depiction of the use of wood in the image. The boat is bathed in brilliant light that is also captured on the sea and the crowd of white-sailed fishing luggers in the background. Two small girls wearing white head-dresses are visible behind the fence to the left. The vessel under construction, like those sailing beyond, is a 'chaloupe thonière', a working boat used on the north-west coast of France for several decades and built fully in frame before being carvel-planked. The 'mould-and-batten' building method has been carefully observed, only the forward frames being largely complete, with the horizontal upper and lower battens guiding the line of the hull clearly visible between bow and stern, round the prominent and critical midships main-frame.

La Thangue was one of several English artists who followed the French realists in painting along the Brittany coast in the 1880s. They chose subjects of ordinary working life, done on the spot, and this mannered style of work was regarded as revolutionary in challenging the artistic conventions of the English art institutions. In its observation of the working methods and conditions of Breton boat-building - an industry linked practically and culturally with the fishing villages of contemporary Cornwall - the painting also anticipates the Newlyn school. The presence and attitude of the girl, and her positioning in front of the fence offers other layers of interpretation. The painting is signed in the top left hand corner.

Object Details

ID: BHC4184
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Thangue, Henry Herbert La
Date made: 1881
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Collecting for the 21st Century
People: Maddocks, John; Sampson, William Walker Budworth Family
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Acquired with the assistance of The Art Fund
Measurements: Frame: 1100 mm x 1163 mm;Overall: 30 kg;Painting: 761 x 822 mm

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