OIL PAINTING: The Oyster Gatherers of Cancale , 1878
Here in The Oyster Gatherers of Cancale Sargent depicted a scene from Cancale, located on the west bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, in the extreme northeast of Brittany, the Village of Cancale has been tied to the sea for centuries -- well before the time of Christ -- and is known for its stunning breakers, its rocks, its breathtaking vistas, its beaches, and of course the living gold it breaths forth -- its mouthwatering oysters. Its people, the Cancalaises, were known for their stoic courage and resilience against a coastline and a way of life that could be as heartlessly unforgiving as it was ruggedly breathtaking, ever-changing, and wildly beautiful.
When Sargent visited there in 1877, many of the men were away -- as they would often be through the nineteenth century -- sailing far into the ocean bound for the rich fisheries of Newfoundland, gambling big on a catch that might pay handsomely. Fathers, sons, brothers, sometimes many of the eligible men in a household might be gone for as long as six months from spring till fall.
In their absence, and left to their own resources, the women and children could not live on promises of a Newfoundland catch alone. What they did have, however, were conditions along a coastline that were so unusual, that as far back as the Romans, the area had been harvested for oysters.