Eugène Boudin, Washerwomen on the Bank of the Touqes, 1895Back
The women are sitting close together, deep in their washing and with their backs turned to us, on the bank of the Touques close to where it meets the sea. In the background, we can see the smoking chimneys of dawning industry in Trouville. Industrial buildings are the subject of a number of Impressionist paintings. For instance, the famous painting Impression, soleil levant by Claude Monet (1872, Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris), which unintentionally occasioned the naming of the new painting style, shows the harbor of Le Havre, located just a few kilometers to the north of Trouville, with its cranes and chimneys presented in the sunrise.
The quality of the river water might not bear close examination. No one knows precisely what the rapidly advancing industries were putting into the rivers at that time. During this period, the hygiene situation was completely different to ours. In the late nineteenth century, Louis Pasteur (in Paris) and Robert Koch (in Germany) made pioneering discoveries in the field of bacteriology, microbiology, and hygiene. Robert Koch described the organism responsible for anthrax for the first time in 1876, and, in 1882, discovered the pathogen for tuberculosis. In 1905, he received the Nobel Prize for medicine. His rival Louis Pasteur succeeded in developing a vaccine for anthrax in 1881, and a vaccine for rabies in 1884. Public interest was enormous. In 1911, the first International Hygiene Exhibition, held in Dresden, was visited by an unbelievable total of 5.2 million people.
However, the hard everyday life of the washerwomen remained unaffected by these historical developments. It must have been a harsh reality: washing laundry on the muddy banks and in the shallow water, first carrying the heavy baskets to the river, and then carrying them back even heavier with the weight of water. Even though we do not learn much about these women —their faces are turned away from us—Boudin is plainly moved by the sight of them. In this small-format picture, he gives these nameless people a silent memorial. It is entirely possible that they did not even notice the artist busily sketching behind them, sunk as they were in their work. Boudin had painted this motif previously, in 1878, followed by a number of variations over the next few decades. In 1895, the year this picture was painted, Boudin was seventy-one years old, and his health (he died in 1895) rarely permitted him to work from subject matter out of doors. Notwithstanding this, the year 1895 saw him create no less than seven versions of this view in his studio, based upon earlier pictures. This shows that the artist was interested in the washerwomen for an extended period of time.
The Washerwomen picture made collecting history: in 1896, Jenny and Sidney Brown laid the foundations of their outstanding Impressionist collection by purchasing this picture and a landscape by Paul-Désiré Trouillebert during their honeymoon trip to Paris. From 1908 onward, the collection would rapidly take shape.
Markus Stegmann in: «Herzkammer», Museum Langmatt 2020