Although Boudin dedicated most of his career to painting the coast of Normandy, he also paid numerous visits to the prospering Atlantic port of Bordeaux between 1852 and 1893. During these years he regularly exhibited there and was patronized by local collectors. The present, unusually large-scale composition depicts the thriving port along the river Garonne and was probably painted in the fall of 1874 when Boudin stayed in the port city for six weeks, painting a total of forty-seven works. In Bordeaux, le port, the artist has captured a spontaneous, fleeting moment in which varied masts and sails crowd the busy waterfront. The monumental scale of the work allowed Boudin to indulge his skill with atmospheric effects; a low, broad horizon offering a great expanse of sky rising above the ships, its rich tones punctuated by freely-applied wisps of fresh white cloud and framed by the luminous earth colors of the quayside. In fact, the artist devotes almost two thirds of the composition to the vast sky, the mastery of which reaffirm Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot's description of Boudin as "the king of the skies."
Boudin’s free brushwork and uninhibited observation of contemporary life identify him as a forerunner of Impressionism. Indeed, it was in 1874, the year the present lot was painted, that the first Impressionist exhibition was held in Paris. Boudin was invited to the exhibition and sent three paintings, one of Finistère and two of the Côtes du Nord, six pastels (including four depicting studies of skies) and four watercolors of the beach at Trouville.
(fig. 1) The artist, circa 1875.