Charles-Francois Daubigny was a French painter associated with the Barbizon school. Daubigny developed his artwork from a more restrict academic style into a daring, looser style with sketch-like qualities, which was quite novel at the time and attracted criticism. His works were able to convey a sense of a swift perception upon a landscape. Daubigny was an artist ahead of his time, who was also largely misunderstood during his career. The French artist's landscapes played a pivotal role as a precursor of the Impressionist movement, influencing young and soon-to-be-famous Impressionist painters, such as Paul Cezanne and Claude Monet.
Charles-Francois Daubigny was born in Paris in February 1817. He was born in an artistic family, as his uncle and his father, Edme Daubigny, were also artists. Edme was a painter who exhibited his landscapes several times at the Paris Salon and was young Charles' first teacher.
When he was nine, Daubigny was sent by his mother to the village of Valmondois, with his caretaker Mere Bazot. Although he remained there for a brief period, the soon-to-be artist became very attached to the location and was often be regarded as a pivotal influence on Daubigny's later production.
Back in Paris, the artist began decorating fan bases, jewelry boxes, and clock faces, in order to improve his family income. Soon, Daubigny would gather sufficient funds to ingress in the atelier of the Academic painter Pierre Athasie Théodore Senties. Although the young artist already displayed a style far from the Academicism, Senties was an appropriate teacher, since Daubigny's main focus was on winning the distinguished Prix de Rome of 1837. The Prix de Rome was a highly coveted prize given every four years to promising art students, sponsoring a four-year scholarship in Villa de Medici in Rome.
However, Doubigny would take the matter into his own hands. By 1836, he took his extra money and took off on a trip through Italy, along with his fellow painter and friend Henri Mignan. As they arrived in Rome, they became impressed with a landscape far different from what they have seen. As opposed to most artists, the duo chose to spend most of their time outdoors, enjoying nature, rather than visiting museums and getting acquainted with the Italian artists' oeuvre. They spent two months journeying through Italy.
Upon his return to Paris, Daubigny promptly returned to Senties studio, preparing himself for the Prix de Rome exams. During this period, the artist decided to focus his efforts on producing historical landscapes for the contest, a subject held in high standards with the Salon jury. Daubigny did not win the Prix de Rome. However, in the next year, he exhibited for the first time at the Salon, showing his View of Notre Dame of Paris and the Ile Saint-Louis. He exhibited alongside his father, which alleviated his disappointment over his refusal at the Prix de Rome.
During his early career, Daubigny created his earliest etchings and wood engravings, developing his landscape drawing and printmaking, both of which he later became highly prolific. Still preparing himself, he visited Rome once again, where he focused on producing new landscapes. He also realized that, in order to win the Prix de Rome, he had to be accepted in the following Paris Salon. To this end, he ingresses the atelier of Paul Delaroche, who was a distinguished academic painter. Daubigny was accepted in the two following Salons, exhibiting his Saint Jerome in the Desert and View from the Banks of the Furon near Sassenage in Isere. Aiming to appeal to the tastes of the jury, Daubigny produced more academically oriented artworks.
Daubigny, once again, was rejected for the Prix de Rome due to his absence from school the day before the final and third exam. However, according to scholars, this allowed Daubigny a more unrestrained and independent artistic experience that he probably would not have, should he had won the prize. As this was his last entry to the Prix de Rome, Daubigny would then work on text illustrations to earn a living. During this period, the artist continued to submit his artworks to the Salon. He also often visited the village of his childhood, Valmondois, where he would find inspiration for his prints and paintings.
In the Salon 1848, Daubigny was awarded a second-class medal, which also secured a state commission to execute an etching reproduction of Claude Lorrain's Watering Hole, consolidating the artist not only as a skilled painter but also a prolific printmaker, hence achieving acceptance in the art world. The etching technique was also gaining prominence as an artistic method, especially spearheaded by Alfred Cadart.
By 1852, Daubigny met Camille Corot, and they created a life-long friendship. During this period, the artist began to develop a style closely related to the Barbizon School, although loosely associated with those artists. He also began to paint outdoors, taking inspiration directly from nature. His production began to increasingly depend on the strict observation of color tones fortified by a keen, although concealed, compositional structure. Although initially unremarkable, his new path would soon gain prominence; His Spring, executed in 1857, was later bought by Emperor Napoleon III.
In order to nurture his fascination with nature, Daubigny went on several trips during 1857, visiting places in Italy and France. He also went to Switzerland accompanied by Camille Corot. In the same year, Daubigny bought a small boat that he named The Botin, including a covered room in which he would turn into a studio. The honorary captain of the vessel was his dear friend Corot and his son, the cabin boy. For several years, Daubigny spent his summers floating along the River Seine, absorbing the landscape that would later make way into his artworks. During this period, the attention to the effects of light, especially on the water, became to play a larger role in Daubigny's compositions. These elements would later be thoroughly explored by the Impressionists, such as Claude Monet, who also owned a boat studio.
By the late 1850s, Daubigny's style would display a more personal lyricism, increasingly employing gradations of light in order to express the effects of space. These elements were able to convey a sense of momentary impression upon a landscape. However, the rise of his recognition did not come without criticism. Although Daubigny's artworks displayed an affinity with nature from the beginning of his career, as his career progressed, nature became the base for an increasingly distinct oeuvre. Many of Daubigny's critics, while praising his intimate connection with nature, also regarded his work as unfinished and sketch-like, questioning if the artist was afraid of finishing his own work.
From a young artist attached to an Academic execution of his artworks, producing historical landscapes, Daubigny's interest in nature would extend his style beyond the academic borders. The elements of this new production that created so much controversy were precisely what would inspire a new generation of artists. Daubigny's tenacity to break with academic rigidness in favor of a more spontaneous execution and the boldness of presenting artworks with a sketch-like finish.
Daubigny became both a pivotal influence and an avid supporter of this generation of artists, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, and Claude Monet. Soon, Daubigny became one of the Salon jurors and would try to employ his Modern artistic vision on this position. However, following the rejection of Cezanne's and Pissarro's paintings, Daubigny resigned from his position as a form of protest. According to the artist himself, he preferred to valorize novel and daring images, rather than the bland and uninspired artworks that were often accepted at the Salon.
In 1866, Daubigny traveled to England due to the Franco-Prussian War, eventually returning in 1870. In London, he would meet Claude Monet, who accompanied him to the Netherlands. Back in Auvers, he also meets Paul Cézanne, a distinguished Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painter. Both Monet and Cezanne were relatively young at the time, and it is assumed that Daubigny had influenced them in many ways. Monet even built his studio in a boat because of him. Daubigny played an important role, serving as a bridge between the once-popular but fading Barbizon school and the more original and audacious Impressionist movement.
By 1873, Daubigny would display a more impressionistic execution, although the term was still to be coined. A fine example of this production is his The Snow, which was exhibited at the Salon the same year and met with heavy criticism for its unfinished nature. These were the same complaints that would be later received by the artists of the Impressionist movement. In 1875, Daubigny once again served as a juror for the Salon. However, as he did the first time, he resigned because of the rigid parameters they used for selecting the entries.
Soon, Daubigny's health condition began to deteriorate. The artist made his last exhibition at the Salon in 1877, showing his Dieppe and Moonrise. He also would spend his last summer in his beloved aquatic studio, the Botin. The artist began to work on a large-scale painting that, unfortunately, was never finished.
Charles-Francois Daubigny died in Auvers, on February 19, 1878.
Perhaps one of Daubigny's contributions to the art world, besides his striking oeuvre, is that he was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal influences for the development of the Impressionist movement, also becoming one of their main supporters. Daubigny's employment of a sketch-like execution was able to convey a sense of one's immediate perception upon a landscape, key elements of the Impressionism. Daubigny directly influenced the works of some of these artists, especially Claude Monet's.
Among Daubigny's pupils and followers are his son Karl, who also became a skilled painter, Achille Oudinot, Albert Charpin, Pierre Emmanuel Damoye, and Hippolyte Camille Delpy. Most of his artworks in public collections are in Netherlandish museums, such as the Mesdag Collectie, Museum de Fundatie, and the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. In the United States, the Cincinnati Art Museum holds some of Daubigny's artwork.