Georges VILLAIN (1854, Paris - 1930)
Washers on Etretat Beach
Oil on canvas
H. 41 cm; L. 55 cm
Signed lower right
Son of Eugène Marie François (1821-1897), who was a pupil of Charlet and Léon Cogniet, Georges trained with Henri Harpignies and Benjamin-Constant, and began exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1877. He essentially realizes landscapes of Brittany, in the region of Rennes and Saint-Malo, and of the southwest coast of the Manche (Granville, Avranches), where some Parisian views are interspersed.
In 1894, Villain moved to the coasts of Haute-Normandie, with views of Cayeux, then he "descended" to Etretat, which became his main subject from 1896/1897.
He proved to be an excellent observer of the bathing or laborious activities of the Cauchoise city, and thus repeatedly represented the washerwomen, or washers, on the beach of Etretat.
At the Cercle Volney in Paris, in February 1897: Les laveuses à Etretat.
At the Salon de Versailles (exhibition of the Society of Friends of the Arts of Seine et Oise) in 1898 (July 3 - October 2): Washing machines, Etretat beach, under number 312. Villain presents four works at this exhibition.
At the Paris Salon of 1903, Washers; Etretat beach, under No. 1729; then at the Paris Salon of 1904, same title, under No. 1799; and again at the Paris Salon of 1905, same title, under the number 1899. It is probably the same painting, and possibly ours, thus re-exposed three times.
At the Salon du Havre in 1905, a watercolor: Washing machines, Etretat beach, morning, under N ° 767
At the Toulouse Salon from 1908 (May to September), Washing machines, Etretat beach, under N ° 995
At the Salon d'Evreux in 1908 (July-August). We find written in the bulletin of the Society of Friends of the Arts of the department of Eure: "The washers were observed and noted by Mr. Villain at the edge of the sea of ??Etretat, with a just realism of pose and colors , skill and even boldness of the invoice… and a flickering touch ”.
Our subject is emblematic of daily Eretatese life at the time. It shows the washerwomen taking over the beach at low tide, as the salt water recedes, the fresh water from the rivers flows underground to the shore; by spreading the pebbles, the washerwomen create cavities which then fill with fresh water; they work until the rising tide flows in the fresh water. Alphonse Karr describes this picturesque task, the fountain, as follows: “This is where all the news from the country is spread; this is where we talk about everything and everyone, we discuss, we judge, we absolve, we condemn ... this is where we learn the news of sailors fishing, let’s comment on love affairs and marriages. It tells how the fish sold in Fécamp, how many in Le Havre; it tells of the disasters caused by the last gale, the dreams we had at night. "
In this beautifully bright canvas, Georges Villain has faithfully restored both the hard work of the washers and the intensity of their social exchange.
We can recognize at the foot of the Amont cliff the silhouette of the imposing Roches Blanches hotel, which had just been built in 1896 (and which was destroyed in 1954), when the seaside resort was already in decline.