Anvers. La Flotte anglaise vient prendre les restes des soldats enterrés dans la citadelle is a spectacular painting in Boudin’s oeuvre that demonstrates the artist's free brushwork and uninhibited observation of contemporary life. Here, Boudin has captured a vivid fleet scene, with a keen eye turned to the eastward blowing wind as sailors descend into westward moving rowboats. The low horizon line in the present work allows for the expansive, overcast sky to rise above the ships, enabling Boudin to demonstrate his virtuoso techniques for conveying the atmospheric effects of man interacting with nature. The smoke from the steamships rises from the lower left and intermingles with undulating clouds. Boudin uses rich tones of thickly applied paint for the Belgian and Dutch flags, the density of which contrasts with the dappled white freely applied to show the breaking of the waves as the sailors and pleasure cruisers row in sundry directions. With seemingly small flicks of his wrist, the artist added elegant touches of blue, red and yellow to the primarily white and black dressed figures in the row boats, acutely aware that these small touches convey both the motion and status of his subjects.
As Tristan Klingsor observed, “Where many painters only found a pretext for large surfaces of blue, opaque and dirty, Eugène Boudin astonishes us by a variety and an incomparable accuracy: for him each cloud has a physiognomy... to give us the impression of immensity and to hold our attention, allured by the innovation of a spectacle which everyday we have under our eyes and which we had never seen” ("Un Précurseur de l'Impressionnisme: Eugène Boudin" in La Nouvelle Revue, Paris, 1891, vol. 8, p. 262).
While this work has historically been recorded in Robert Schmit's catalogue raisonné of Boudin's work as depicting the English Fleet, the scene this commemorates indeed seems to be that of the Dutch Fleet collecting the remains of fallen soldiers from the Belgian city of Antwerp. In the late summer of 1871, as recorded in The Times, published in London on August 24th, 1871, the Dutch arrived in Antwerp to collect remains of fallen service members: "The demonstrations at Antwerp on the occasion of removing the bones of the eight Dutch officers who died during the defense of the citadel and were buried there, for the purpose of being interred in Holland, have made a good impression here [in the Hague].... The more than friendly behavior of the Belgian Government on this occasion is regarded by some as of political significance. This much is certain, that it is an eloquent proof that the relations between these small countries are excellent" (The Times, London, August 24, 1871, p. 9).
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