Eugene Boudin (1824-1898) is rightly considered one of the forerunners of French Impressionism, and his influence was quite direct. As Claude Monet’s first teacher, he persuaded the teenager to paint en plein air. Read an excerpt of Joseph Skrapits’ article on this important artist here, and read the complete article in the May, 2013 digital edition of PleinAir magazine.

“You must be absolutely determined to retain the first impression, which is the correct one,” Eugene Boudin told his protege, Claude Monet. “My eyes, at last, were opened,” Monet acknowledged years later. “If I have become a painter, it is entirely due to Eugene Boudin.”

“The Beach at Trouville,” by Claude Monet, 1870, oil on canvas, 15 x 18 1/2. Collection National Gallery, London, England

Boudin, a native of the picturesque port of Honfleur in Normandy, had been painting seascapes and harbor views of his beloved French Channel coast for almost 20 years, without much commercial success. In the summer of 1862, he studied the elegant crowd at the fashionable resort of Trouville, near Honfleur, and sensed fresh possibilities for his art.

“The Beach at Trouville,” a popular favorite at the Salon, marked the beginning of a period of financial security for Boudin, after years of hardship. More important for his long-term reputation was the praise of younger artists and some progressive critics, like the poet Charles Baudelaire, who called attention to Boudin’s plein air sketches, “several hundred pastel studies of the sea and sky, so rapidly and so faithfully sketched from those most fleeting and elusive shapes and colors, the waves and the clouds.” Rarely exhibited today, these studies form the hidden foundation of Boudin’s art, through which he developed his skill as a colorist and his sureness of touch — a rapid, shorthand style of brushwork that beautifully expresses the mobility of sun, wind and clouds.

“Venice, The Salute and the Canal Grande,” by Eugene Boudin, 1895, oil on canvas, 14 1/8 x 22 7/8. Private collection
Boudin became famous as the “painter of beaches,” but his art was more wide-ranging, both before and after the 1860s. The son of a sailor, Boudin himself had worked as a cabin boy at 11, and he remained fascinated by ships and harbors. In his early years as a painter it was difficult for him to reconcile the precision required for rendering a ship’s complicated rigging with the fluidity and liveliness of brushwork that he favored. In 1852 Boudin even collaborated with another artist who was better at painting ships’ masts. The two painters jointly signed the works, which at the time sold better than those painted by Boudin alone.

In 1884 Boudin built a small villa in the most fashionable of all the Channel resorts, Deauville. He had finally come to live among the “idle rich,” though the artist was hardly idle. The next year he painted no fewer than 175 pictures of meadows — another foray into new territory for him — and that was not his total output for the year. Ten years later Boudin visited Venice for the last time. “I wish I was 20 years younger to be able to make my stay worthwhile for myself and for art,” he told his brother, “but I feel exhausted by the hard task of painting.” The result of that trip was 75 paintings.


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