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“The sun shone bright on the water…”

The Boating Party by Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt was an outsider. She was both an American in France, and a female artist who did not have access to many of the places her male counterparts could go. Cassatt used her otherness to highlight women, and the issues unique to their lives. In The Boating Party we see, what appears to be, a family out for a pleasure ride. Cassatt chose angles, and colors that fill the work with division, and tension. The woman, and child are painted in full, and nearly in the center of the canvas. By highlighting their clothes with pink, she asks us to question their place in a world of blues, yellows, and greens?

The Boating Party
The Boating Party by Mary Cassett 1893/1894 Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Ground Swell by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper’s Ground Swell is drenched in sunlight. His focus is a young sailing
party in the prime of their lives. The brightness of the painting is contrasted by a dark, and clanging bell buoy which bounces roughly on a the waves. Everyone on the boat stares at the buoy as the helmsman steers them sharply away. The title is key to understanding what we are seeing. A ground swell is caused by a an oceanic disturbance, like a strong storm, or earthquake. Waves formed by these events can travel thousands of miles. Hopper finished painting Ground Swell on September 15, 1939. Fifteen days earlier Europe was plunged into World War II, a seismic event that was felt around the world.

Ground Swell Edward Hopper
Ground Swell by Edward Hopper 1939 Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse

Ever the romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites loved painting Arthurian legends like Alfred,
Lord Tennyson’s, The Lady of Shalott. In Tennyson’s poem, the Lady is cursed to live out her days chained in a tower on an island. She is forced to spend her days sitting in front of a mirror and weaving tapestries of what she sees. The mirror faces a window. She may never gaze out the window, or she will die. One day, the knight Lancelot crosses the path of the mirror. The lady turns to get a better view, and the curse is set in motion. John William Waterhouse infuses all this backstory into his painting by using symbols, and clues. Yet he chooses to show the Lady of Shalott already floating to her doom. The three candles, two already extinguished, hint at her death. We know her future is predestined, for she has no way to control her boat.

The Lady of Shalott 1888 by John William Waterhouse Courtesy of Tate Museum

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Renoir

Gustave Caillebotte was an avid boater, and sailor. He won regattas, he made, and
customized his own sailboats, and for a time he was Vice President of the Sailing Club of Paris (Cercle de la Voile de Paris). In Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir immortalized a young Caillebotte in his boating attire. In the late 1870s Caillebotte created a series of paintings of canotiers (boaters who resemble modern kayakers) paddling on the Yerres River. In theses works he captured the light, the beauty, and serenity he found out on the water. For Caillebotte this was the story

Renoir Luncheon of the Boating Party
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre Auguste Renoir Courtesy of Google Art Project

Richard Estes Ferry Boats

Richard Estes is a photorealist painter. He manipulates multiple images to create a
unique view that is familiar, but the exact angle of his paintings often can’t be found in real life. In Ferry Boats our ferry has just left a dock. The wake froths and twists behind us as we pull out to an unknown destination. Where is your ferry heading? What are you leaving behind? What story does Estes churn up inside you?

Ferry Boats by Richard Estes
Ferry Boats by Richard Estes courtesy of Art Net

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