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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Eugene Boudin

One of the risks one runs in teaching others to paint is that one of your students may far eclipse your own best efforts. That was the situation which marked the career of Eugene Boudin (pronounced Bo-DAN). Camille Corot called him "the monarch of the skies." And some twenty years before the Impressionists made a fetish of painting "in plein air", Boudin was setting up his easel on the bluffs and beaches of his native Normandy and Brittany, capturing the transient colors, mists, and weather with a sketchy freshness that was to influence the young would-be Impressionists a generation later. And it was Boudin who enticed an 18-year-old Claude Monet to join him in his painting forays to capture on the spot the raw beauty of the sun, sky, surf, and sea on the pristine white canvases Boudin taught him to use. Monet became so enraptured by what he saw and felt on these outings that it formed the basis for his entire life's work. In no time, he far outshone his beloved mentor. 

Boudin was born in Honfleur on the Normandy Coast in 1824. His father was the captain of a rickety river steamer and by the age of ten, Eugene was serving as a cabin boy on his father's boat. However when it became obvious the son had no interest in his father's vocation, they sold the boat and set up a stationery shop in Le Harvre where Boudin began displaying his painted landscape sketches. It was here, during the 1840s, that he met and became influenced by some of the earliest artists to paint the Normandy Coast. Among these were Englishman, Richard Bonington, Eugene Isabey, and most of all the Barbizon painter Jean Francois Millet. Millet took him to Paris to study, but it was Normandy that inspired his best work and here, in turn, he was to meet and inspire the young Monet.

Berck, Fishermen at Low Tide,
undated, Eugene Boudin
Boudin was unknown as a painter until 1859 when he was lucky enough to have an unexceptional painting accepted in the annual Salon. He was praised by no less than the critic/writer Baudelaire. But it was only when he began to follow the rebel Impressionists whom he'd also inspired, that he did his best work. In 1874, he displayed with them in the First Impressionist Exhibition. But it was another fifteen years before his paintings were recognized for their seminal influences and came into the hands of art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel.  Soon thereafter, his work began bringing respectable prices. In 1888, the government bought one of his paintings and he was awarded the prestigious Cross of the Legion of Honor. He died a year later. Over six thousand of his pastels, drawings, and watercolors were bequeathed to the Louvre after his death. Modest to the end, he noted in his autobiography: "...though I cannot claim to stand among them (the Impressionists), I may have had some measure of influence in the movement that led painters to study light and...the sky with utmost sincerity."

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