In the 1880's Mürger's vie de bôhème was transplanted into artists' colonies in Fontainebleau, Normandy and Brittany. With the publication of Blanche Willis Howard's romantic fiction Guenn, in 1884 - the story of a love affair between a peasant girl and a young American painter - Concarneau became the destination of choice. The pretty fishing port had welcomed artists since the sixties, but now its hotels were full.
A few years later, subtle changes occurred in the work of British and American painters active in Brittany. Where formerly the mantra of Bastien-Lepage had swept the artists' colonies, now the styles were more diverse. Three years after Bastien-Lepage's death, those who, following the eighth and final Impressionist Exhibition, had begun to experiment with Divisionism, were painting along-side those who still sketched en plein air with broad square paintbrushes. Yet others were developing new theories, and Gaugin's Cloisonisme would emerge from Pont Aven the following year.
We can therefore account for the look of Samuel G Enderby's Breton Girl, by noting the lack of surface detail of a Bastien-Lepage; we also note the absence of the rigorous square brush handling of Stanhope Forbes and Henry La Thangue. Enderby, in reducing his palette to a few simple tones, is aware of Whistlerian aestheticism and has looked to the second generation realist, Alphonse Legros, as a mentor. Throughout the 1870's Legros, while teaching at South Kensington and the Slade School, returned regularly to the coastal villages of northern France for inspiration, producing numerous paintings, drawings and etchings of boulonnaises (fig 1). Frequently shown in the act of almsgiving, or at prayer, these women, the stoic wives of local fishermen, have that austere beauty found in Enderby's Breton Girl.