Although Eugène Boudin always felt particularly attached to his native Normandy, where he regularly worked, in the middle of the century he began to travel frequently around Brittany and northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands. In 1884, while staying in Abbeville, a town north of Amiens in the region of Picardy, he produced this small panel painting of an urban scene entitled The Square of the Church of Saint Vulfran. The rigid, geometrised façade of the flamboyant Gothic style church that dominates the right side of the painting contrasts with the fluidity of the clouds, which occupy most of the left-hand side of the composition on account of the very low horizon line and envelop the entire painting with their luminosity.
As with most of his small works, it was almost certainly painted from life, as the artist reserved his studio for larger paintings. Boudin, who taught Claude Monet to paint en plein air and exerted great influence on the Impressionists, with whom he showed his work at the group’s first major exhibition in 1874, eschewed picturesque description in his final period in order to directly capture atmospheric and light effects. As the artist himself stated, “three brushstrokes executed outdoors are worth much more than ten days painting in the studio.”