The small boat, 1895

La petite barque (the small boat)
Oil on panel, signed and dated lower right 1895
49, 5 x 61 cm
Nancy, musée des Beaux-Arts (inv. 1462)

La petite barque is one of the several pictures painted by Friant on the theme of young couples. Two of Friant’s most celebrated works, Idylle sur la passerelle (Lovers on the footbridge – 1887, Nancy, musée des Beaux-Arts) and Ombres portées (Cast shadows – 1891, Paris, musée d’Orsay) belong to that series. La petite barque, which has been exhibited on numerous occasions, was the property of, successively, actor Coquelin aîné and businessman Louis Corbin, both avid collectors of Friant’s work, before being offered to the museum by the Société “Claude Lorrain” des amis du musée in 1937.

Friant was not much interested in anecdotal details, he focused instead on emotions and inner feelings. The poetic nature of La petite barque lead Benoît Martin to write this highly personal text :

“Closing the eyes, feeling the breeze, hearing the water lapping against the boat, as the surf rocks into drowsiness, isolated, protected.

And let go, far away from the fresh lights of Morocco, Tunisia or Spain and relive this delicate Spring afternoon moment lasting an eternity.

The lovers surrender to the fertile tranquility. She leads the boat while he leaves it to his beloved, both guided in the trust of mutual feelings and blown around by every wind hitting the sails.

To relive this moment forever, cover it with a white cloth to signify the universal nature of a love that is protected from the turmoil of this end of the 19th century.

Time stands still, as captured by the painter.

Setting on this piece of wood the beauty of nature with paint and brushes, magnifying the details, only keeping a snapshot as close to the reality as possible to translate the feeling of tenderness. And at last, coming to terms with letting the painting to be devoured in one year by the viewers at the Salon. 1895 was a year of recognition and friendships, filled once again with an immutable temptation to unravel the humble truth of beauty”.

Benoît Martin
Deputy curator at the Palais des Papes, Avignon
Member of the A.E.F.

Translated from French to English by Agnès Penot