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: An Initiator of Impressionism


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The personality of Eugene Boudin shines through his canvases. He was a man whose quiet persistence was never undermined by the long life of poverty and disappointment, which devotion to his art involved. Although his art received almost no public recognition until he was an old man, he produced a very large number of paintings in which he seems never to have fallen below his own standard of sincerity and workmanship.Historically, Boudin is important as a link between the Men of 1830 and the Impressionists-more specifically between Corot and Monet. If the public and the conservatives of the Academy ignored him, his art was understood and admired by his greatest confreres. "King of the skies," Corot called him. Courbet, after watching him paint a canvas, exclaimed, "Truly you are one of the seraphim, for you alone understand the heavens!" Monet, in a letter to him in 1889, wrote, "in recognition of the advice which has made me what I am." The modest Boudin in turn gives much credit to Corot, Courbet, and Jongkind for his own insight into the subtle truths of atmosphere.For his subjects Boudin went to the harbors and beaches of the Norman and Breton coasts. His father was pilot of the steamship "Francois" of Havre, a bluff and hearty sailor of the old type, so Synford Dewhurst tells us in his book on Impressionist Painting. His mother was stewardess on the same ship, and the young Boudin, born at Honfleur in 1824, spent most of his childhood on board, being made cabin-boy as soon as he was considered old enough. An irresistible desire to paint somehow arose in the boy, and he began making sketches in bitumen. Some of them have been preserved and are said to display remarkable proficiency.When Boudin was fourteen years old, his father fortunately grew tired of the sea and set up a stationery shop in Havre, where Boudin had more time for his painting. One day Troyon, who had brought a canvas into the shop to be framed, saw some of the boy's pastels and was delighted. Soon Millet also discovered him; and the two older painters helped him to go to Paris to study, although it was with considerable misgivings aroused in them by their own lack of worldly success. During his years in Paris, began Boudin's long struggle against poverty. On one occasion he paid a laundry bill with a painting which recently exchanged hands for 4,000 francs. For several years he conducted an academy, l'Ecole Saint Simeon, in an old Norman country inn. As a resting place for most of the celebrated French artists of the time it was a remarkable institution, but financially it had small success. Years of hard struggle in various cities followed for Boudin, the almost annual exhibition of his works in Paris resulting in few sales. While living in a garret in Havre, there was a time when he had to resort to burning furniture to warm himself. Later, in Brussels, he was obliged for a time to turn day-laborer. But his health and courage remained intact, and gradually his pictures came to sell more regularly, though at low prices. When he was sixty-five years old, he was at last awarded a gold medal at the Salon. The Government bought one of his paintings for the Luxembourg in 1888, and another a few years later. Finally, in 1896, two years before his death, the old artist received the ribbon and cross of the Legion of Honor.The subjects of most of Boudin's paintings are scenes in Norman and Breton harbors showing quais and jetties, with masts of square-riggers fretted against gray skies. Sometime after 1868, Isabey persuaded him to paint scenes de plage at the fashionable watering places; and it was then that our Beach at Trouville, purchased in 1915 from the Dunwoody Fund, must have been produced. Yet in reality his subject was always sky and atmosphere. Clouds fascinated him. His painting of them is never stereotyped nor theatrical. The charm of his water, the depth and reach of his skies, with that marvelous subtlety of silvery grays, and violet grays, and leaden grays, his habit of painting always en plein air, his growing avoidance of black shadows, his method of analyzing and decomposing his tones, these things must indeed have influenced the younger Monet, and Monet's canvases dated around 1870 show a clear parallelism.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Beach at Trouville, by Eugene Boudin
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Source: H. B. Wehle, "An Initiator of Impressionism," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 6, no. 8 (October, 1917): 57-58.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009