Ferdinand Gueldry: Encore

(Joseph) Ferdinand Gueldry (1858 – 1945). A self-portrait of 1883.

22 October 2018

By Tim Koch

Hélène Rémond recently posted a delightful piece on the exhibition of paintings by Ferdinand Gueldry, ‘painter of water and light’, currently on show in a Paris suburb in the Musée de Nogent-sur-Marne, 36 boulevard Gallieni.

Some Gueldry paintings on display in the Musée de Nogent-sur-Marne in 2014. Picture: Paris-bise-art.blogspot.com

I was particularly taken by the painting of Molesey Lock. It confirms the ‘picture in words’ drawn by Jerome K Jerome in Three Men in a Boat (who uses the old spelling, ‘Moulsey’):

I have stood and watched (Moulsey Lock), sometimes, when you could not see any water at all, but only a brilliant tangle of bright blazers, and gay caps, and saucy hats, and many-coloured parasols, and silken rugs, and cloaks, and streaming ribbons, and dainty whites; when looking down into the lock from the quay, you might fancy it was a huge box into which flowers of every hue and shade had been thrown pell-mell, and lay piled up in a rainbow heap, that covered every corner.

’L’écluse de Molesey’ (‘Molesey Lock’), 1896.

On a fine Sunday it presents this appearance nearly all day long, while, up the stream, and down the stream, lie, waiting their turn, outside the gates, long lines of still more boats; and boats are drawing near and passing away, so that the sunny river, from the Palace up to Hampton Church, is dotted and decked with yellow, and blue, and orange, and white, and red, and pink. All the inhabitants of Hampton and Moulsey dress themselves up in boating costume, and come and mooch around the lock with their dogs, and flirt, and smoke, and watch the boats; and, altogether, what with the caps and jackets of the men, the pretty coloured dresses of the women, the excited dogs, the moving boats, the white sails, the pleasant landscape, and the sparkling water, it is one of the gayest sights I know of near this dull old London town.

‘An afternoon’s pastime on Molesey Lock’. This picture by Gueldry shows the now removed ‘rollers’ used by small boats to avoid going through the lock.
A near contemporary postcard showing the rollers at Molesey Lock. Coincidentally, it bears an inscription written in French: ‘I’m not bored anymore’.

Hélène’s piece inspired me to search the Internet for other examples of Gueldry paintings with a boating or rowing theme and I soon discovered some fine examples – reproduced below.

The Gueldry exhibition press kit (imperfectly translated by a piece of software) is here.

This following italicised text in bold is translated from the press kit’s section on ‘Gueldry as a painter of water sports’:

From 1881 (‘A Regatta in Jonville-le-Pont’), Gueldry painted many boating scenes showing rowers in striped jerseys – and also those watching them. He paints different types of competitions, boats and activities related to the water. 

Gueldry shows the Marne: scenes of boating at Bry-sur-Marne Bridge (1890-1900), boats crossing the Noisiel Dam (1895), a race at the Joinville Bridge (circa 1887).

‘Une régate à Joinville. Le Départ.’ (‘Joinville Regatta. The Start’), 1881. Gueldry co-founded the Société Nautique de la Marne in Joinville-le-Pont in 1876. The River Marne is a tributary of the Seine, east of Paris. Picture: Wikipedia/public domain.

He also represents the Seine: the annual match between the Société Nautique de la Marne (his club) and the Paris Rowing-Club shows the race between Boulogne and Suresnes (1882). He also painted in England, such as Molesey Lock teeming with boats (1896).

‘Match annuel à l’aviron entre le Rowing-Club de Paris et la Société Nautique de la Marne en 1882’ (‘The annual boat race between the Rowing-Club of Paris and the Societe Nautique of Marne, 1882’).

The boating paintings of Gueldry show the banks of Marne River are between 1880 and 1907 between his 22nd and 49th years when he was a high-level competitor and international referee. His ‘Launch of an outrigged eight’ (1907) is probably his last painting showing the Marne.

‘Mise à l’eau d’un outrigger à huit, (‘Launch of an outrigged eight’) 1907. The blue and white striped jerseys are of Gueldry’s club – the Société Nautique de la Marne.

These works make it possible to study the categories of boats used for pleasure and competition at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The rise of regattas in rowing brings important technical innovations, the boats are more refined and are lighter. This evolution fascinates Gueldry. He shows in his compositions the more minute details allowing the viewer to identify the boats.

‘Bords de Marne’ (The Banks of the Marne’). In a comment on Hélène’s piece, Tom Weil revealed that he owns ‘a competent and pleasing contemporary copy’ of this.

The work of Ferdinand Gueldry also allows us to follow in pictures all the stages of a rowing regatta….

‘Le virage à la bouée’ (‘The turn at the buoy’), 1890.

He also allows us to see the details of handling and maintaining boats.

‘Sur la rivière’ (‘On the river’).
‘L’écluse’ (‘The Lock’), 1889. Picture: G Garitan/Wikipedia. I initially speculated that this was Molesey Lock but the hats and singlets worn by the rowers indicate that it is French (or, at least, not English). Details of the picture can be viewed here.
‘Mise à l’eau sur les bords de Marne’ (‘Launching on the banks of Marne’).
‘La course de bateau’ (‘The boat race’).
‘La Preparation De L’aviron’ (‘Getting ready to row’), 1890.
‘La Regate’ (‘The Regatta’).
‘The start of the Boat Race, Putney’ or ‘Eights at Putney’. It looks a little quiet for Boat Race Day, but possibly the crews are downstream of the bridges at Putney and are going towards the start. Apart from St Mary’s Church, the picture also appears to show the aqueduct and the oast house that were demolished during the building of new Putney Bridge, 1882 – 1886. I suspect that this may not have been painted from life.

YouTube has a short montage of some of Gueldry’s boating pictures set to music:

The Internet seems certain that Gueldry competed at Henley and umpired internationally – but this has yet to be proven. However, he did become an Olympian at the age of 53 when he entered the ‘mixed painting’ category in the art competitions at the 1912 Stockholm Games!

A monochrome copy of an oil painting: ’Un jour de régates’ (‘A day at the regatta’), 1890.

One art catalogue holds that:

By the end of the nineteenth century, the passion for boating both for pleasure and sport had increased dramatically. Gueldry, an artist with a keen sense of line and an innate understanding of colour, was able to capture this unique period in Parisian history as the bourgeoisie enjoyed themselves on the banks of the Seine and the Marne.

Another said that his paintings showcased Gueldry’s love of detail and accuracy in depicting the boats, rowing equipment and the colours of his fellow oarsmen.

Ferdinand Gueldry, the painter of water and light, in his studio – a self-portrait.

The quality of the copies of the pictures reproduced here varies, but even the low-resolution ones (as yet another catalogue puts it) capture the realism of the moment yet have romantic overtones portraying both the competitiveness and the fun of boat racing.

2 comments

  1. Dear Mr. Koch,
    I am interested that you state that the rollers at Molesey Lock have been removed. It has been many years since I used the rollers, for the purpose of getting punts from Dittons Skiff and Punting Club up to Sunbury Regatta. A Google Maps photograph appears to show that one set of rollers is still there but the photograph is too indistinct to determine what is blocking the other two sets of rollers.
    I have known members of Thames Valley Skiff Club punt down the rollers at Sunbury Lock i.e., remain standing in a 2 foot punt while it ran down the rollers, something that takes quite a bit of skill, not a little foolhardiness and youth.

  2. Dear Deirdre (if I may),

    Thank you for your comment. Looking at Google Earth, you are absolutely correct, the rollers still exist at Molesey Lock. I can find only one picture of them on the Internet. The page no longer exists, but if you put ‘molesey lock royal canoe club’ into Google and go to ‘images’, the picture should come up. I assumed that the rollers no longer existed as, whenever I have passed through the lock during the annual Auriol Kensington RC Veteran’s Row from Hammersmith to Henley, ( https://hear-the-boat-sing.blogspot.com/2010/06/one-of-many-henley-traditions.html ) I have never noticed them.

    Incidentally, the AK Vets do use a set of rollers during their row. At Boveney, near to Eton Wick, we usually avoid waiting at the small lock and use the ‘portage’ to the side of it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boveney_Lock#/media/File:BoveneyLock04.JPG Of course, such a device is not designed for an eight; we cannot put the boat on the rollers, we have to carry it over them, an exercise that usually results in much straining and swearing.

    Best wishes,

    Tim.

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