|Oarsmen offers an image of the sport involving a moderate degree of exertion: two men in standard boating
attire, jerseys, and straw hats are shown rowing, in a sturdy
boat; one man's face is hidden and the other's is only vaguely
delineated, which obliges the viewer to focus on the two pairs of
arms, symbols of effort and movement. The artist's point of view
is that of someone standing in the boat or looking down on it from
a bridge, allowing for a plunging, arrowlike compositional scheme,
moderated somewhat by the horizontals of the oars, the front rower's
seat, and the splashing wavelets, only a few of which are affected
by the hull's advance.
The work's originality made it irresistible to the caricaturists:
Draner simplified it in the process of interpreting it
(a rowers boat shown sinking); curiously, Bec , who reproduced the composition more or less accurately, cropped the head of the second oarsman in a rather labored attempt at a joke: M. Roch, thp Paris executioner,
had just died, as is confirmed in the issue of L'Illustration dated
May 3, 1879. Was Bec poking fun at the arbitrary croppings often
criticized in Impressionist work, or was he responding to an earlier
state of the painting? Only examination under ultraviolet and
infrared rays would allow us to answer this question definitively.
In any event, a drawing squared for transfer' has exactly the same
composition, but it is not easy to determine its precise relationship
to the picture. Is it a preparatory study, or was it done after the
fact, despite the squaring?