Armand Guillaumin was a French artist, considered a pivotal member of Impressionism, who worked primarily with painting and lithography. Armand is known mainly for his landscapes around Paris, Esterel, and Creuse. He was among the first of the Impressionists, outliving many of his peers. He used a palette that, in some ways, predates the colorwork that Fauvists intensively explored later on.
Jean-Baptiste Armand Guillaumin was born in February 1841, in Paris. He was sent to school in Moulins, which was essential to his future, for it was when he began to develop an interest in art. The main reason was because of the region's mountainous landscape. It was also when Guillaumin started his lifelong friendship with Eugene Murer, who would later become a distinguished Impressionist collector.
By 16 years old, Guillaumin was already back in Paris, working as a clerk at his uncle's shop, while studying art under the sculptor Louis Denis Caillouette. In 1860, Armand Guillaumin started working at a public railroad company, probably pursuing his family's economic independence.
The Académie Suisse, now known as the Académie Colarossi, was founded by Martin-François Suisse. He intended to propose an alternative to L'Académie des Beaux-Arts, which was run by the Neo-Classical painter Jacques Louis David. After Matin-François' death, Académie Suisse was run by his nephew Charles Suisse, depicted in a portrait by Gustave Courbet.
Since Académie Suisse was relatively cheap, costing 10 francs per month, and it gave liberty for its participants to paint as they wanted. This sense of autonomy became almost a Modernist incubator, where many artists that didn't care for the academic dogmas flocked towards. On the other hand, Beaux-Arts was the place that was still stuck to David's mindset and wouldn't accept works that strayed too much from the conventions.
In 1861, Armand Guillaumin became part of the institution. There he came in contact with Courbet and made more lasting friendships with Oller, Pissarro, and Cezanne. Even at the beginning of his career, Guillaumin was already regarded as an accomplished draughtsman, using economic and dynamic movements to create his compositions. Guillaume exhibited at the first Salon des Refuses in 1863, participating in six of the eight exhibitions.
Unfortunately, the next seven years in Armand Guillaumin's life have no documentation. It is known that in 1870 he went to Pontoise with Pissarro, where he grew infatuated with landscape painting. During this period, he frequently went out with Cezanne to paint on the river banks of the Seine River. Guillaumin was seduced by the aspects of water, which became a running motif in his paintings.
In the painter's work, the ever-changing and luminous aspect of water became a way to explore pictorial impact and color contrast. One of the most remarkable examples, and arguably his most famous work, is Sunset at Ivry, in which the sky goes from intense orange to yellow, a light blue-green, and then a luminous blue, and the river mirrors its colors, rearranging this pattern dynamically and stunningly.
In Au Bord de la Mer, we can see the same compositional choice, with the blue being more prevalent in the sea while the sky makes the same color grading as the previous painting: from light blue-green to yellow. The purple among the tree, the shadow of the leaves, makes a notable contrast concerning the background. This richly articulated colorwork made a painter like Vincent van Gogh declare his admiration for Guillaumin’s luminous paintings.
Armand was a loyal Impressionist. He was part of the first Impressionist exhibition, which happened in 1874, and of the other five until the movement's official ending. By the year 1880, The Impressionist group was beginning to fragment, with groups forming around Pissarro and Degas, drawing artists to either side. Gaugin, who was becoming a rather prominent voice in the artistic community, sided heavily towards Pissarro and made great efforts to include Guillaumin by his side.
Manet and Renoir would join the Impressionist Exhibition of 1882, along with Guillaumin, Pissarro, Gauguin, and others; Degas' absence was duly noted at the time. By 1885, Guillaumin, although highly revered as an artist, began to outgrow the Impressionist movement he was invested in since its birth. The group crumbled mainly because of Gauguin's difficult temper and intolerance, which destroyed it from the inside.
Gauguin then represented the search for a Symbolic and Spiritual dimension in art, developing a painting style with whole flat areas of color, a significant contribution to what Fauvism aspired. The other side of the Impressionists was represented by artists like Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. They believed that painting must have a scientific comprehension behind it and proposed a visual breakdown of light's physical effects.
In 1886, Guillaumin settled in Paris, where he married Marie-Josephine Gareton, and they had four children. Paul Gauguin and Edgar Degas were present in their marriage. By the end of the decade, Guillaumin would become a kind of mentor figure and close friend of Vincent van Gogh, who would also be a keen stimulus and influence to Guillaumin's subsequent artworks.
Luck fell upon Guillaumin in 1890. The artist bought two awarded lottery tickets, winning 100.000 and 500.000 francs, respectively. This made Guillaumin's life a lot easier since he wasn't from a wealthy background and, despite not being extremely poor, he wasn't making much money from painting.
This new financial situation allowed him to rent a house in the Crozant region, where he painted en plein air with other artists. This group of creatives later became known as the Crozant School. It was while facing the sea that Guillaumin felt truly connected with nature. The artist was especially fascinated by the French coast, much so that he wrote to Gauguin not to understand his fascination with Tahiti.
At the beginning of the 1890s, Guillaumin began experimenting with more striking colors, anticipating Fauvism. Using violet, ochre, and other unnatural colors, he proceeded in painting in his Modernist and impactful way, creatively exploring color-relations.
Armand Guillaumin died in 1927, in Orly, France. He lived quite a long life and was the last surviving Impressionist artist.