John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)

Young Boy on the Beach, Study for “En route pour la pêche” and “Fishing for Oysters at Cancale”, 1877

Oil on canvas, 17 1/4 x 10 1/4 in. (43.8 x 26.0 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1999.132

In 1877, early in his career, the American expatriate artist John Singer Sargent spent the summer painting in the picturesque Breton fishing town of Cancale. His intention was to make sketches for his first major outdoor subject, which would command attention in important exhibitions in France and the United States. To suit the different audiences, Sargent painted two slightly varied versions of the scene, one for Paris titled En route pour la pêche (Setting Out to Fish) (1878, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC) and a smaller version called Fishing for Oysters at Cancale (1878, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which may have begun as a preparatory sketch for the larger work. Using fluid, animated brushwork, he painted these sketches of individual figures on-site and worked from them to create the two finished compositions in his studio. A contemporary interest in themes of peasant life, especially fisher-folk, determined his choice of subject.

Learn more about the individual sketches for these two paintings on the Terra Foundation website.