Night on the Lagoon
Here, the painter produces a highly synthetic painting with great economy of means, quite different from the peasant scenes that he usually depicted. An analytical approach and feeling for detail bring it closer to Naturalism. Jeanne Magnin speaks of a “symphony in blue where the artist has not sought to create an effect, but has expressed a personal impression of his only trip to Venice, undertaken in 1880 [in fact it was in September 1881], when he was already suffering the early stages of the illness that would lead to his death. His heightened awareness conveys the emotion that the magical blue night sky on the blue sea aroused in him; the unbroken line of small islands is silhouetted between the sea and the sky, where the clouds are blown along by the sea breeze, obscuring and revealing the silver stars in the course of their impetuous flight. Intensely poetic, quivering, expressed by palette and brush as it might be by rhythm and rhyme, the magic of a memory exalted in a dream.” (unpublished writings). The very modern choice to move towards monochrome, and the differentiation of planes that soften the central motif set further back, was probably a result of Bastien-Lepage’s visit to the Grosvenor Gallery where, in July 1881, the artist Whistler was exhibiting several works inspired by Venice.