Fishing boats and a paddle steamer, Boulogne
Though described in Bonington's 'Complete Paintings' ( ed. Patrick Noon, Yale U. P., 2008) as 'Fishing boats and a paddle steamer, Dieppe' this drawing bears an old inscription on the back identifying it as a view off Boulogne. This is in fact correct, both from the coastal topography and more circumstantially in that a boat at centre bears the inscription 'PB/ 3' on the sail: this is probably both a punning reference to Bonington - whose initials RPB also appear as a signature bottom right - and may identify the vessel as a 'Port de Boulogne' pilot boat, perhaps heading to meet the incoming cross-Channel paddle steamer, far right. The large wooden framework flying a (faded) red flag at the end of the jetty, on the south side of the harbour entrance, is probably a tower on which signals were hoisted to indicate safe states of tide for steamers to enter the port, including by lights hoisted at night. Early steamers like that shown were particularly at risk of damage to their paddles if they went aground except upright on a level shore. Unlike sailing vessels - which did not generally enter harbours at night - they also ran to schedules and were sufficiently manoeuvrable to do this given such aids, as today. The Boulogne jetty itself was a long one given the shoaling approach, and sheltered the entrance from the prevailing weather direction. Its full length, and the signalling framework, are shown in contemporary print by Frederick Nash (PAD1608), taken from above the town beach to the north of the harbour: this was done for J. F. d' Ostervald's Normandy 'Excursions' (1823-25), a French publication to which Bonington also supplied plates. The present drawing is a relatively late example of Bonington's marine watercolours along the Normandy coast and the one that perhaps most strongly shows the influence of Turner in its treatment of the agitated sea. Bonington moved from Nottingham to France with his parents in 1817 (when he was 15) and trained and began his artistic career there. His first visit to London was in 1825, where he certainly saw original work by Turner. While he could have been influenced by marine engravings that Turner published before 1820, there is a strong possibility this view was done after his return to France in 1825 and before he went to Italy the following year. He only returned to London twice more, in 1827 and 1828. The last time was for unsuccessful medical help and he died there, aged only 26, of consumption (tuberculosis).
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