Jean-Louis Forain – Elegant Woman at the Beach

22 Feb

‘Adrift in cheap dreams don’t stop the rain.’ (Manic Street Preachers – Motown Junk)

1885-jean-louis-forain-elegant-woman-at-the-beach-1885Jean-Louis Forain, Elegant Woman at the Beach, 1885

The colours and the mood of this painting instantly attracted me. An elegant lady is trying to leave the beach as quick as possible, to avoid the upcoming storm, but the wind is not making it easy for her. Exuding sophistication and class, she must be a Parisian lady who came to the seaside on holiday, hoping to find some peace from the stresses of modern life. Instead of enjoying a picturesque sunny day at the beach, with smiling white clouds and a clear blue sky, she’s welcomed by a turbulent sea and an overcast day, oh how aggravating!

Let’s imagine her name is Celestine, and that this is a one of those sudden storms at the height of Summer, let’s imagine it’s one Thursday afternoon in July. So, Celestine is in a hurry, because she knows that even cheap dreams don’t stop the rain. It seems that just a second ago she lifted her arms and dropped her umbrella, quick not to allow the wind to take over her lovely bonnet. We can see the direction the wind is blowing because the ends of her coat are turned upwards and her red scarf, painted in just few dabs of rich cherry colour, is dancing on the wind. Her vibrant garnet red dress and a navy blue coat stand out amidst all that greyness, which irresistibly reminds me of Anna Karina’s blue and red outfits against the backdrop of grey Parisian streets in Godard’s film ‘Une Femme est Une Femme’. Swift, thick and short brushstrokes are present everywhere, but most notably on her skirt, where the black and red seem to be battling for dominance over the fabric.

I’m sure Celestine would like me to talk more about that lovely outfit that she put together for a walk at the beach, but I think the sea and the beach itself deserve a moment of attention and appreciation. As Forain was an Impressionist, and a friend of Manet and Degas who even invited him to exhibit on the Impressionist exhibitions, he wanted to capture the mood, the magic effects of light and air, rather than perfect details and realistic portrayal of landscape. His careless brushwork and the illusion that everything was painted hastily, as a sketch, all bring to life the atmosphere of that gloomy afternoon: we witness the white clouds being devoured by the dark-grey ones, with almost a purplish undertone to them, we see the wind as it tries to blow Celestine’s bonnet, and probably carries the tiny particles of sand in her eyes, and the sea – we can hear the clasps of waves, and see their strength, beauty and naughty playfulness. This is a moment captured in time, like a photograph. And do I sense a spirit of Turner or Whistler in that portrayal of sea?

It’s hard to notice the line which separates the sandy beach and the sea, but this vagueness delights me. There’s a chair next to the lady, also painted in quick brushstrokes, and two small figures in the background. Sea is painted in beautiful sea foam colour. All in all, the beauty of this painting, for me, lies in its quick, exciting, playful brushstrokes and a gorgeous colour palette in which harmony of greys meets the vibrancy of reds and blues.

Rain, storm, and a desolate beach – my idea of heaven, or at least a perfect afternoon.

5 Responses to “Jean-Louis Forain – Elegant Woman at the Beach”

  1. lautreamont 22nd Feb 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    Ha ha -how d’ya make the association twixt that picture and Motown Junk I just don’t know. .Kinda cool though. Moi, je ne like pas the Manics cept the line”under neon loneliness- everlasting nothingness” Great line! Anyway,just like in your picture it’s blowing up a storm outside’ so I’m gonna go and get coffee and look at the shit clothes in the King’s Road,and then gaze across the cold black waters of the Thames in reverie. Just thought-,there’s a Dylan bootleg song “Positively Van Gogh” you may know it .Can you think of any painting that would resonate with it? It says in one of your posts you don’t like where you are studying-stay cool.! Best.


    • Byron's Muse 23rd Feb 2017 at 6:22 pm #

      Ha ha, you know I love making association between painting and rock songs. Still, I have no idea at the moment for ‘Positively Van Gogh’, perhaps one of van Gogh’s self portraits. ‘Under neon loneliness everlasting nothingness.’ – that’s a BRILLIANT line, I adore the song! Hope you enjoyed your reveries by the Thames. Seems that you don’t like current fashion trends, neither do I, in fact I abhor modern fashion.


      • lautreamont 23rd Feb 2017 at 8:58 pm #

        Nah I can’t stand modern fashion.Chelsea ain”t what it used to be either.They’ve wrecked the whole of the south side of the river with hideous new buildings that look like multi-storey car parks.They are vile expensive little slave box flats.It used to be desolate waste ground and a few derelict factories-beautiful,especially at night.Putney is still cool though especially to the West down the river path.Hope you are still painting your striped floors and ballet rats.Best

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yuliana 22nd Feb 2017 at 8:07 pm #


    I’ve just randomly found your blog. I do believe in coincidence, but not in this case. I think it was meant for me to find this beautifulyl written blog. Even though I’ve just read a few of your posts, I already feel so connected to you.

    Thank you for doing this.


    • Byron's Muse 23rd Feb 2017 at 6:24 pm #

      Hello and I’m delighted that you feel that way. That means I’ve succeeded in my aim – to make art and paintings seem alive. 😉


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