The area was equally popular with French artists who liked to document this newly fashionable recreation, as numerous works by the likes of Eugène Boudin and Claude Monet demonstrate.
The artist Eugène Modeste Edmond Le Poittevin’s (1806-70) take on the subject was one of the best-sellers in Sotheby’s (25/20/13/9% buyer’s premium) sale of paintings, drawings and sculpture 1300-1900, held in Paris on December 3.
Les Bains de mer, plage d’Etretat (Sea Bathing; the beach at Etretat) (above) is a large, 2ft x 4ft 11in (63cm x 1.49m), panoramic format beach scene showing bathing huts, people in bathing costumes and fashionably attired ladies in crinoline dresses.
The painting, is signed, localised and dated lower left on a plank Etretat 1864./Eug. Le Poittevin. It was exhibited at the Salon of 1865 where it was seen and purchased by the Emperor Napoleon III for 7000 francs.
After the proclamation of the Third Republic, Napoleon III went into exile in England and his assets were impounded. Some were returned to him while others were sold.
Les Bains de mer, plage d’Etretat was thought to have been lost, known only from a photograph and drawings by the artist. The most likely hypothesis, says the auction house, is that it was probably restituted to the Empress Eugénie, and possibly offered by her to her nephews, the Dukes of Alba.
Offered at Sotheby’s with an estimate of €50,000-70,000, it ended up selling for €180,000 (£163,635). This is a new auction high for the artist, surpassing the previous high of Fr122,000 paid in 1992 for another smaller painting of the same subject.
Rubens studio work
Among the Old Masters there was also a much higher than predicted price for an oil on panel of the head of St Paul catalogued as the studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
The painting consists of a 15 x 11½ in (38.5 x 29cm) panel inserted into a larger panel measuring 2ft x 18¾ in (62 x 47cm). It is thought that the smaller panel is older, probably 17th century, and has been inserted into the later surround, possibly not long after it was painted. The work, which was purchased by the ancestors of the vendor in Paris in 1922, has a provenance back to the mid 17th century as: “Probably recorded as early as 1655 as Van Dyck in the Cathedral of Saint-Donatien in Bruges until at least circa 1765 ….”
The composition of St Paul, which is known through a number of sketches and copies, is sometimes attributed to Rubens, to Anthony Van Dyck or their studios.
Sotheby’s offered this panel painting with an attribution to Rubens’ studio and an estimate of €20,000-30,000. In the end the bidding reached €160,000 (£145,455).
The highest-priced work in the sale was Joseph Vernet’s 3 x 4ft (93cm x 1.2m) oil on canvas of a view of Tivoli, near Rome, painted in 1753 and previewed in detail in ATG No 2469. It sold for €500,000 (£454,545)against a €600,000-800,000 estimate.