Art We Love: An Impressionist Snapshot of Summer’s Simple Pleasures

On Albert Edelfelt's 'Boys Playing on the Shore' (1884).

Albert Edelfelt, Boys Playing on the Shore (Children Playing on the Shore) (1884). Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Hannu Aaltonen.

For an episode of the Art Angle podcast, we asked Artnet News writers and editors to tell us about one work of art that brings them joy. The following is a part of a series of transcripts of the answers. You can listen to the entire podcast on Apple Music, Spotify, or here


The work I chose for this is a painting by Finnish artist Albert Edelfelt titled Boys Playing on the Shore. It’s in the collection of the Ateneum in Helskinki, Finland, and I first encountered the painting in the museum’s retrospective exhibition of Edelfelt this past summer.

The work was made in 1884, and it depicts three little boys playing on the shoreline with toy boats. The boy closest to the viewer has his back to us, and he has rolled his pant legs up to avoid them getting wet. The other two children are balanced on rocks, one holding a toy boat. The other, crouching, is maneuvering another toy boat already in the water with a stick. In the distant background of the image there is sunlight reflecting blindingly on the lake or sea and several full-size boats, such as a cargo ship and a schooner, which, at a distance, appear similar in size pictorially as the toy boats.

The entire composition is rendered in these earthy, organic tones and it’s executed in an Impressionist style. Edelfelt was known to paint en plein air, or outside, and that sense of immediacy can be felt in the work.

What really draws me to this painting, and what sparks happiness, is just how unburdened and untroubled it is. Despite being made over a century ago, it has the same carefree feeling as any summer snapshot taken since. The children are engrossed in their play, and with their toy boats, completely unaware or unconcerned with being observed. The landscape is calm and even, and, standing before the painting, it offers a sense of respite, or pause. It seems to imply that worries and concerns are for another day.

There are perhaps other works by Edelfelt, or any other artist for that matter, that more directly approach ideas around happiness or joy, but for me there’s something to be said for the simplicity and humbleness of Boys Playing on the Shore, and that’s why I chose this work specifically.

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