Shotgun Reviews

Eugene Isabey: Fishing Village at the Legion of Honor

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This week’s Shotgun Review was written by Irene Gerenrot, who participated in Art Practical’s March 2012 Art Smarts writing workshop for middle-school students, produced in conjunction with 826 Valencia and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. You can read her review Skull of Santo Guerro (III) on Art Practical.

Caption: Eugene Isabey. Fishing Village, 1854–55; oil on canvas; 53.7 x 35.43 in. Collection of the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky. Courtesy of the Athenaeum.

Caption: Eugene Isabey. Fishing Village, 1854–55; oil on canvas; 53.7 x 35.43 in. Collection of the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky. Courtesy of the Athenaeum


Fishing Village (1854–55), by Eugene Isabey, stands out from the rest of the paintings in the Legion of Honor’s Impressionists on the Water exhibition, on view through October 13, 2013.  Most of the paintings depict water in a very neat fashion and as being calm, as though all rivers are ideal for kayaking and God created lakes only for races, fanfares, and general fun. Fishing Village illustrates the down-to-earth life of an average nineteenth-century fishing village: poor, difficult, busy, dirty, alive, and boisterous.

My eye first lit upon a bright spray of sea foam, then traveled down with the dirty brown water to the boats, docked and rocking. It continued on to the people working, the shoddy houses, a brown hill painted with thinner brushstrokes for the grass, and the murky sky.

There is a lot of brown in the painting, which is historically accurate, because back in those days, any large body of water was polluted by sewage. The brown makes the other colors stand out more brightly and with them, the people, who are painted with a thicker layer of brushstrokes than the water and sky, making them appear almost as if they belong to another painting.

The people huddle along the line where the water meets the shore. A poorly dressed woman is hugging two little children while she squats on a log, a red cloak lying near her, while another child, maybe hers as well, watches, leaning against a barrel. A man with a bright blue patch on his belly sits beside her. Their proximity to each other suggests they are a family. They are the foremost group, the first figures noticed. Behind them, standing over the water, two women hang a white cloth over the railing. Others gossip, their faces drawn with very little detail. The picture is full of different stories so a viewer’s attention is captivated, trying to read them all.

Fishing Village is included in Impressionists on the Water, on view at the Legion of Honor, in San Francisco, through October 13, 2013.

My name is Irene Gerenrot. I am thirteen and going into high school. I like to read, write fiction, and spend too much time online. When I’m not at school, online, reading, or writing, I’m learning physics, guitar, and art. I live with my mother and brother and cat.