51. Eugène Isabey

Paris 1803 – 1886 Montévrain, Seine-et-Marne

View of the Fort de Bertheaume, 1850

The son of the celebrated miniaturist Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1767–1855), Eugène Isabey was reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps and initially wanted to be a sailor. Throughout his long and successful career as a painter, lithographer and watercolourist, Isabey worked with a diverse range of subjects, including history and genre scenes as well as landscapes, yet the sea would remain his main source of inspiration. By 1830, he had secured an official commission to document the French military campaign in Algiers, working alongside Théodore Gudin (cat. 49-50). This impressive view of the Fort de Bertheaume in the Finistère was painted in 1850. Isabey had been travelling to the coasts of Brittany and Normandy to paint en plein air since the early 1820s, and the vigorous yet refined application of paint displays his mastery of the technique. With great economy of means, the artist captured the richness of colour of the shimmering sea. The bright sunshine has reduced the seventeenth-century fortification to basic geometric forms, while the dark colours of the rocks along the lower edge of the island indicate that the tide is low. The mark of Isabey’s estate sale of 1887 at lower left tells us that the sketch remained in his possession until his death.