Painted 1868-69, Fishing Boats on a Beach depicts the coast of Normandy at Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer. Courbet had first visited Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer in August of 1867 when he was invited there by his patron, the weathly pharmacist Fourquet. According to Jean Jacques Fernier, Fishing Boats on a Beach distinquishes itself from the other compositions he painted in Saint-Aubin in its use of fishing boats to populate the beach in a manner which is more suggestive of his compositions of Etretat (see Christie's, New York, October, 13, 1994, lot 113, Deux bateaux sur la plage). As with the Etretat pictures, Courbet shows fishing boats tied to their moorings on a rocky beach, devoid of human presense. In these marine scenes, Courbet relates his vision of the power of nature over man by the majesty of the sea and the immensity of the sky.
This painting will be included in the supplement of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on Courbet by Jean Jacques Fernier.