Bocion et sa famille à la pêche
(Bocion and His Family Out Fishing), 1877
The leisure activity depicted in this work was still rare in the 1870s: such boating was the preserve of a circle of initiates, otherwise the only sailors to venture out onto Lake Geneva were fisherman, tug boatmen and other transporters. The relative closeness of the mountains shows the scene to be set near Vevey, the home region of François Bocion’s family on his mother’s side, where he spent part of his youth. Indeed, his early schooling took place not far away, in Montreux, where he no doubt picked up his grandfather’s passion for sailing on the lake. By having the water reach all the way to the lower edge of the painting, with no hint of terra firma, Bocion makes the viewer feel close to the boats, as if sitting in another vessel. The low horizon produces an effect of space, amplified by the oar and by the spit of land on the right, while the hazy blue of the mountains adds depth to the scene. The skilfully rendered reflections in the water, the luminosity, and especially the handling of the female figures strongly outlined in black, bring to mind Édouard Manet.
Standing in the boat on the left, we recognise Bocion, all in white, his pose recalling the one struck by Louis XIV in the famous portrait by Hyacinthe Rigaud (1701, Paris, Musée du Louvre), complete with royal cane and ceremonial canopy. In the other boat, a woman sheltering under a parasol could well be the artist’s wife, Anna-Barbara Furrer, a native of Zurich. The composition, which thus shows the painter and his family occupying two boats, turns out to be more ambitious than its modest dimensions might suggest. It is unusual in that it stands at the juncture of genre painting, landscape and self-portrait.
François Bocion, au seuil de l’impressionnisme, exh. cat. Vevey, Musée Jenisch Vevey, Milan, 5 Continents Editions, 2006: n. 37.
François Bocion. Du Léman à Venise, exh. cat. Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, La Bibliothèques des Arts, Lausanne, 1990: n. 32.