Boudin painting of ships
Eugène Louis Boudin, "View of Bordeaux, from the Quai des Chartrons," 1874, oil, 21 9/16 x 35 1/4 in., Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund and Gift of Mrs. Dudley S. Blossom, Jr.

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The son of a sailor, Eugène Louis Boudin (French, 1824–1898) grew up near the sea in Normandy. While he enjoyed only a brief stint as a cabin boy at age 11, ships and harbors remained a muse for much of his painting career. Largely self-taught, the artist found the best way to capture the subtleties of such scenes was to paint outdoors. He was so enthusiastic about the practice, in fact, that he often documented the weather and time on the back of his canvases.

Here, he concentrated on the working docks of Bordeaux. The low horizon line relegates much of the canvas to sky, with the soaring vertical and diagonal forms of the masts providing a complement to the horizontal thrust.

To create a fresh, airy quality, the artist covered the entire canvas with a tan color, then, probably while it was still wet, applied a thin, opaque application of white. For the darker areas representing water, he laid in an olive green.

Considered one of the forerunners of French Impressionism, he shared his love of plein air with a young Claude Monet. “You must be absolutely determined to retain the first impression, which is the correct one,” Boudin told his protege.

Monet acknowledged later, “My eyes, at last, were opened. If I have become a painter, it is entirely due to Eugène Boudin.”

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