Breton fishermen, Concarneau, France signed 'Edgar Payne' (lower right) oil on canvas 16 1/4 x 20 1/4in overall: 23 x 27in
PROVENANCE: Collection of Vera Williams (operator of a book store in Balboa Island, 1949-1953) Thence by descent to Don T. Curtis, D.D.S., Amarillo, Texas Sale, Butterfield & Butterfield, June 25, 1998, lot 5483 (sold as Fishermen in Adriatic Fishing Boats) Private collection, Los Angeles, since 1998
In All the paintable things in Europe: Payne's European Art and Travels (1922-24, 1928), Lisa Peters discusses Edgar Payne's choice of Brittany as one of his destinations during his European journey. In her detailed description of Adriatic cargo boats, we learn how different the sails and rigging and shapes of the boats are from those of Brittany. Therefore, the erroneous title of this painting under consideration can be discounted, and changed to Breton Fishermen, Concarneau, France, where the artist spent approximately from 1923 to 1924 sketching and photographing his subjects.
American artists' presence in the region can be dated back to the 1860s, when the American expatriate Robert Wylie, formed an artists' colony in Pont-Aven. Peters says the magnetic draw for the artists was Brittany's sunlit beaches, lush fields, jagged coastline and ancient harbors, and the colorful traditional attire of the Breton fisherfolk.
Payne spent his time sketching in the fishing ports of Concarneau and Douarnenez, evidenced from the many drawings he made of the fisherfolk's clothing and the various poses of the men and women. In her essay, Peters quotes Payne's daughter Evelyn Payne:
"Dad's sketches are mostly of fishermen, and you can see what they wore in the following sketches. The color of the main garments were, in Concarneau, mostly what is still called 'Breton red,' often very patched. The caps were large navy berets. In France the edge of the beret was always tucked under, not worn outside as sometimes seen in this country, and in Brittany the front was pulled forward to shade the eyes."
In this painting, the Breton clothing can be easily discerned, as described by his daughter. Peters also mentions that he used the figures as compositional devices, "at times taking his photographs in which he selected his angles carefully to bring out rhythmically organized groupings of men and nautical forms." Here, in this Breton scene, he has placed in the foreground his small sardine boats at angles to allow the viewer to move in and out among the boats to the very background, depicting the partially cropped sails of the larger Yawl or tuna boats. Although there is little definition of the activity taking place among the fisherfolk, it appears that they are unloading their catch--a scene from daily life, which he transferred to larger canvases. The contrast in dark and light helps to dramatically stage this scene.
We are grateful to Patricia Trenton, Ph.D. for her assistance in writing this essay.