From March 22 2013 to July 22 2013
Eugène Boudin was born in Honfleur in 1824. In 1835, his family moved to Le Havre. Eugène worked for a printer and then a stationer. This gave him the opportunity of meeting artists passing through. At the age of twenty-two, he gave up shop keeping for painting.
At a time when classicism and romanticism in art were in conflict, he chose a new path, inspired by the painters of the 1830 school but firmly directed towards outdoor painting and the search to capture fleeting moments. In fact, he wrote in his notebook that, “three brushstrokes outdoors in nature are better than two days’ work at your easel“. In 1858, he converted Claude Monet, his elder by sixteen years, to painting. Later Monet was to say, “I owe everything to Boudin“. In 1859, he met up with Baudelaire, who was fascinated with the pastel studies of Boudin and later Courbet.
Preoccupied with the representation of figures in natural light, Boudin invented the beach scene in 1862. This new genre had an undeniable influence on the painters of the future Impressionists group. From 1870, at the request of art dealers he moved on to paint marines. This home-lover, fond of the skies of the River Seine estuary, was thus obliged to travel to “vary his products”. To the Netherlands, Bordeaux, Berck or Venice, the sky and light were his veritable subjects. Corot said of him that he was the “king of skies”. During the 1870s, this attentive study of light led him to introduce the principle of “series” of paintings and then, over the next decade, he reached the threshold of pure painting.
Boudin found it hard to have this art of freedom, based on evanescence, accepted by an audience fond of descriptive painting. In the 1890s, after years of struggling, obstinacy and poverty, he finally achieved relative recognition. For this artist who said that “independent means not belonging to established – and “sacred” – schools of painting…”, these tardy honours had less value than the awareness of the role he had played in the history of painting: “If several of the people I had the honour of setting on the right track, such as Claude Monet, were swept along further by their own temperaments, they at least owe me some recognition, as I do to those who advised me and offered me models to follow”.
In 1898, after a lifetime devoid of adventure but entirely devoted to his art, the old painter, still dissatisfied and looking to raise his painting to new levels of requirement, passed away in Deauville, in his modest chalet, looking towards the elements of his lifelong quest – the sea, the sky and light.
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