22 June 2013

Eugène Boudin: the man who mentored Monet?

Today my students were examining 19th century artists who painted en plein air.  Partially this was an ideological issue in that a person could only be true to nature if he was standing among nature when he painted. Anything else would be dishonest. And partially it was a technical issue in that light, shadow, colour and wind changed all the time. A person who painted from inside a city studio would not manage to select the right paint colours and effects.

Boudin, Personnages sur la plage de Trouville, 1865
Musée Eugène Boudin, Honfleur

Eugène Boudin (1824-1898) was one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors, although he did not start life as an artist. Boudin was born in Honfleur, on the English Channel coast of France, near La Havre. He grew up with the sea at his feet and the sea breeze blowing in his hair. Plus he had another great advantange – his father was a sea man.

The young man visited nearby Trouville where he set up a framing business. There he came into contact with artists working in the area and exhibited the works of Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet in his shop. Eventually Boudin decided to toss in the business, to become a full time artist himself. By 1856, Boudin had met the younger artist Claude Monet (1840-1926) and the two of them seemed to have worked together in a successful mentor-student relationship.

Boudin's predilection for the study of light led him to apply the Series Principle at an early stage. This innovative approach prefigured the one subsequently applied by Monet, whose series of Rouen Cathedral was painted long after Boudin's church images. Monet declared “I consider Eugène Boudin as my master” so it is not a coincidence that Boudin participated in the First Impressionist Exhibition with his younger colleagues.

The exhibition called Corot to Monet at the National Gallery London in July 2009 was very helpful in placing Corot and Boudin as the early masters and the young Impressionists as later arrivals.

Because Boudin was at heart a maritime Frenchman, the Normandy coast became a major location for his paintings, en plein air of course. I don’t know how much of a sailor he was, but he certainly showed talent in depicting sand, sea, boats, bathers and the fishing industry. But was he self-taught? I cannot find any record of Boudin having attended any art school.

Boudin,  On the Beach at Sunset, 1865
Metropolitan Museum Art, Washington DC
38 x 58 cm

I had expected Trouville to be a very humble port with nothing more exciting than a few hard working fishermen, chasing their daily haul. But by the time Boudin got to Trouville, the pace of life was rapidly changing, largely I assume because of the new railway connections. The Parisian middle class had discovered that Trouville was a very pleasant place to holiday and then the moneyed families arrived from Britain. Fashionable hotels opened across the road, facing the beach. People dressed very nicely for their daily promenade over the sand, the jetty filled up with pleasure seekers towards sunset and casinos after sunset.

I have included Personnages sur la plage de Trouville 1865 (top) even though it showed sky but very little sea, sand or weather. But it was one of his small, portable canvases that he painted right on the beach, carefully capturing the fancily dressed men and women. We can see the long and voluminous skirts, flowery hats, bowlers, suits and vests. In some of his works, we can also see the gentle city folk holding parasols against the sun. We can also start to see his mastery of light in these small works of art.

In the 1870s, when Trouville Beach Scene was painted, Richard Green said the artist had adopted a freer, flickering brushwork which melded the figures, sea and cloud-flecked sky into one sparkling impression. His palette was a subtle mix of greys, blues, beige and buff, enlivened with touches of red. Boudin rendered both the play and reflection of light and the outline of people and objects; his palette of greys and blues, his shading, his consistent harmony were an accurate reflection of nature glimpsed sensitively. He may have had a sailor's frankness and open-heartedness, but Boudin’s 300 seascapes looked radiant.

Boudin, Entrance to Trouville Harbour, 1888, 
National Gallery London
32 x 41 cm

I have no doubt that Boudin mixed with the Barbizon artists south of Paris. But his choice of landscapes and seascapes was not influenced by Millet, Courbet, Corot etc. Rather it was his younger decades spent along the Normandy coast that inspired his passion for natural coastal images. And he was inspired by the market opportunities - he hoped that the crowds of summer visitors would buy his coastal paintings and take them home, after their holiday ended.


The Musée Eugène-Boudin in Honfleur has a decent collection of works by the artists who loved to paint along the coast at a time when Impressionism was just starting. Readers may enjoy the pastels and paintings by Boudin himself.

Monet, The Beach at Trouville, 1870
Monet's new wife and her friend, thought to be Madame Eugène Boudin
National Gallery, London

Each March, the European Fine Art Fair/TEFAF is held in the Dutch city of Maastricht. "The Father of Impressionism: Eugène Boudin and his Circle" is the catalogue written by Susan Morris and published by Richard Green Publishers London in 2016 to accompany this year's TEFAF exhibition.


Pat said...

I think Boudin must be a bit underestimated. In our courses on Impressionism, we rarely mention his role.

Hels said...


that might have been my fault. Not that I didn't enjoy Boudin's paintings; rather I hadn't seen Monet's comments about Boudin being his master before.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, The Monet you show at the end makes an interesting comparison with Boudin's work. Monet has the defter touch, but the greater detail in Boudin's style creates a different type of interest, although perhaps some of his broader expanses (as of sand or sky) appear to me a little choppy.

Hels said...


I wonder if Boudin would have been more professional - had he been born 20 years later, perhaps in Paris. While working in a small coastal town, in a retail shop, he was not studying in formal art classes and he was not spending endless hours in the Louvre.

Nonetheless he was very productive and, I agree, interesting. Some of his beach scenes would have been a lovely reminder to families of their holidays. Others not.

Jacquemart-André Museum, Paris said...

From Normandy to Venice, which he discovered in his latter years, Boudin painted landscapes in movement in a subtle harmony of coloured greys. A genuine King of the skies, Eugène Boudin perfected the art of transcribing changing elements like light, clouds, and waves.

"Eugène Boudin, through his travels" Exhibition, 2013.