Monday, June 16, 2014

The Pre-Impressionists: Eugene Boudin

Eugène Boudin actually took part in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874, but he has never been regarded as one of the Impressionists. He did play a key role in the development of the movement, though, as mentor to his friend Claude Monet. It was Boudin who encouraged Monet to paint, and it was while painting alongside Boudin at Honfleur that the 18-year-old Monet received the revelation of his artistic vision. After Boudin had set up his easel and begun to paint, Monet wrote, "I looked on with some apprehension, then more attentively and suddenly it was as if a veil was torn away; I had understood, had grasped what painting could be; by the sole example of this painter absorbed in his art and independence of effort, my own destiny was made clear." Boudin was born in Honfleur in 1824, so was sixteen years Monet's senior. The two men remained close until Boudin's death in Deauville in 1898; it even seems likely that the word "Impression", which so infuriated the critics when Monet used it, was borrowed from Boudin, whose notebooks and letters are full of the need to work "when the impression is fresh". Boudin's kindly and modest nature is well-caught in Paul Helleu's drypoint portrait of him sketching on the harbour at Deauville in 1894.

Paul Helleu, Eugène Boudin
Drypoint, 1894

The seaside towns of Normandy - Honfleur, Deauville, Trouville - were Boudin's home territory, and the primary subject of his art. Even though he spent every winter in his Paris studio, he never painted a single city scene. Boudin is particularly remembered for his relaxed and evocative beach scenes, which from the 1860s on documented the new fashion for beach holidays, with female holidaymakers in crinolined dresses and men in suits and bowler hats. But he was interested in everything to do with the sea, and his canvases are full of yachts and fishing vessels, sailors, fish markets, and washerwomen.  Boudin was an astonishingly productive artist, creating over 4,000 oil paintings and 7,000 drawings, watercolours, and pastels. But he only made three prints: two unimportant lithographs, and a single etching. The etching is a dramatic seascape with many different vessels - sailing ships, fishing wherries, rowing boats - evidently very quickly sketched onto the surface of the copper plate, which has been quite lightly bitten. Boudin would have made this etching in the atelier of Alfred Cadart, having accepted membership of Cadart's Société des aquafortistes in 1864. But it was never published by Cadart, and Boudin seems to have laid it aside and forgotten all about it. It wasn't published until after his death, when it was first editioned by L'Estampe et l'Affiche in December 1899. There were 50 copies on Chine, with no text, and larger edition on laid paper with the words Boudin inv. et sculp., and usually the blind stamp of L'Estampe et l'Affiche. A third edition of 300 copies (20 on Japon and 280 on wove paper with no lettering) was published the following year by H. Floury in Gaston Cahen Eugène Boudin, sa vie & son oeuvre.

Eugène Boudin, Marine
Etching, c.1864
Delteil 3, Melot 3

On the evidence of this one lively "essai d'eau-forte", it seems a shame that Eugène Boudin did not pursue his interest in etching further, and given the etching fever of the time it is also quite surprising. But I am very pleased to have a copy of his only etching, from the Floury edition. The same publication contains a further eight etchings after Boudin, by Loÿs Delteil. Delteil (1869-1927) is better known today as a cataloguer of the etched work of others in his multi-volume work Le Peintre-Graveur illustré, but he was also a talented etcher in his own right.

Loÿs Delteil, Temps d'orage
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Chez la Mère Toutain
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Eugène Boudin's primary artistic principle was his commitment to working direct from the motif, en plein-air. This doesn't mean he never worked up his ideas in the studio - that was how he spent the winter months in Paris. But he was convinced that "everything painted directly and on the spot has a strength, a vigour, a vivacity of touch that can never be attained in the studio." He passed this conviction on to Monet. Boudin in turn had been converted to plein-air work by the Dutch painter Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891), who was on friendly terms with artists of the Hague School, the Barbizon School, and the Impressionists, without, like Boudin, being subsumed into any of these groups. Boudin, too, was on very good terms with Barbizon artists such as Corot, Troyon, and Daubigny.

Loÿs Delteil, La plage de Trouville
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Campoux, environs de Brest
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

The best place to see Boudin's art is on the Normandy coast where it was created. There are wonderful collections of his work at the Musée d'art moderne André Malraux in Le Havre and the Musée Eugène Boudin in Honfleur, mostly works donated by the artist's family, at his request, after his death.

Loÿs Delteil, Un marché au Faou
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Barques à marée basse
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

Loÿs Delteil, Pardon dans l'église de Hauvec
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1900

The critic Gustave Geffroy wrote in 1883 that Boudin was "together with Corot and Jongkind, one of the immediate precursors of Impressionism. He shows us that impenetrable black does not exist and that air is transparent."

Auguste Marie Lauzet, Le port de Trouville
Etching after Eugène Boudin, 1892

I'm indebted for information and translations to Vivien Hamilton's excellent book Boudin at Trouville.

7 comments:

Thomas Groslier said...
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Neil said...

Thomas, poor old Eugène Boudin must have had to put up with jokes all his life...

Thomas Groslier said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jane Librizzi said...

Neil, there is a painting by Jongkind at the Art Institute of Chicago that looks very similar to Boudin's etching and it was made about the same time. "Entrance to the Port of Honfleur". Fascinating post.

Neil said...

What a very interesting comparison, Jane. I believe Boudin and Jongkind sat many times side by side sketching and painting the same scenes, so the likeness is perhaps not so surprising, but illuminating all the same.

Theresa Crout said...

Thank you once more Neil for brightening my day with your Boudin post. About 4 years ago we went to Honfleur just because of the impressionists, but your insight was more than I knew of. I especially loved his musee there in town, but also the incredible Le Harve musee.

Neil said...

Thank you for your kind comment, Theresa. Honfleur is such a pretty little port, isn't it?