Mystery location – Boulogne or Rouen?

June 29, 2022
‘Boulogne Fishmarket’ (1886) by Eyre Crowe A.R.A

The current owner of this vibrant watercolour painting has recently been kind enough to share the image and the details of its provenance with me. ‘Boulogne Fishmarket‘ was known to me only from a scant line in a Royal Academy exhibition catalogue. In 1922 it was part of an ‘Exhibition of Works by Recently Deceased Members of the Royal Academy’ (Eyre Crowe had in fact died in 1910) and was owned by a Reginald Gurney Esq. It was purchased from a Norwich art dealer in 1938 and has remained in the family ever since.

A busy fish market in a French town is depicted, with all the detail, action and humour to be expected of an Eyre Crowe image. He was a prolific sketcher and at least some of the people were probably drawn from life and would have been recognisable to their community.

Curiously, although the watercolour is clearly signed and dated ‘E. Crowe 1886’, the details of the scene correspond exactly with the review description of ‘Fish Market, Rouen‘, an oil painting exhibited at the Royal Academy two years earlier, in 1884. The watercolour seems to be a later copy of the oil painting.

The watercolour does not bear a title itself, so it seems likely that it was mis-interpreted as showing Boulogne sometime between 1884 and its exhibition in 1922. Is it really Rouen? Are there any experts on late-19th century northern France who could settle the question?