Eugène Isabey

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Eugène Isabey
View of Etretat
ca. 1860
Black chalk, brush, and watercolors, on paper.
7 1/2 x 13 1/4 inches (190 x 336 mm)
Purchased on the Lois and Walter C. Baker Fund.

Isabey first ventured west of Paris to Normandy with his father in 1820. Inspired by the sea and the dramatic coastline, he returned regularly throughout his career to different sites along the coast, moving to Varengeville, near Dieppe, in 1856.
This view of the famed white chalk cliffs of Etretat in Normandy, with the natural arch known as the Porte d'Aval jutting into the sea, with the tall rock spire of L'Aiguille, or the needle, visible to the right, is taken from on high, on the path along the top of the cliffs. The coast at Etretat was depicted by artists from Corot and Delacroix to Manet and Monet, and the panorama with the white cliffs meeting the waters of the channel has become an iconic image. However, this expansive vantage, looking down on the town nestled by the shore and out on the bay, minimizes the site's natural features and thus was less frequently depicted.
Isabey has delineated the landscape's topography and contours in black chalk, making a full sketch before adding local color. The reddish brown hills give way to the gold grasses that top the cliffs, and the town remains in a purplish shadow, contrasting with the faint blue of the sea and the reserve of paper used for the sandy beach. Such drawings served as raw material for Isabey to craft his more dramatic views of the terminus of the cliff and the stone arch. For those works, to enhance the drama of the setting, the view was taken from the shore, allowing the cliffs to tower impressively over the foreground scene.


Signed, with the artist's monogram, in pen and brown ink, at lower left, "EI".

The artist's family; Jacques Fischer and Chantal Kiener, Paris.
Associated names: 

Fischer, Jacques, former owner.
Kiener, Chantal, former owner.


Denison, Cara D. French Master Drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1993, no. 113, repr.

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