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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 19th century: A Breton Sunday
A Breton Sunday


A Breton Sunday
about 1890
Eugene Laurent Vail
oil on canvas
36 1/2 x 29 1/8 in. (92.6 x 74.0 cm)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mary B. Longyear
1917.1.1
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Eugene Laurent Vail was born in Brittany and returned there to paint after studying in New York City and Paris. He was highly respected by art critics and artists alike for his scenes of everyday life and found inspiration in his native region's people and fishing villages. In A Breton Sunday, a young woman holds a Bible and wears the typical white Breton cap. Behind a fishing boat, rings of smoke dot the hilly shoreline and a church sits atop a hill far in the distance. The flat perspective, dark colors, and floating figure show a departure from Vail's usual impressionistic style with its bright colors and loose brushstrokes. The painting's composition and mood suggest Vail's awareness of the symbolist painters of Pont-Aven of the 1880s. The symbolist movement focused on the emotions and ideas that an artwork evoked rather than its formal composition and narrative. The movement greatly influenced French painters at the time, most notably Paul Gauguin, who championed its ideas in his art and writings.


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