Eugene Boudin was an artist beyond his time, as he pioneered some artistic practices and principles of the Impressionist movement. Boudin was known as one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors, or en plein air. He was mainly recognized for his exquisite seascapes, executed with masterful renditions, ranging from magnificent clouds to the vast bodies of water. He was appreciated by art critics like Charles Baudelaire and fellow artists such as Camille Corot during his lifetime.
Eugene Louis Boudin was born in July 1824, in Honfleur, France. Boudin's father was named Léonard-Sébastien Boudin, and his mother was Marie Felicité-Buffet. Léonard was a sailor, and Marie Felicité worked as a maid for the same company. At the age of ten, young Eugene already worked on a steamboat that traveled between Honfleur and Le Havre, where he moved with his family in 1835.
His father opened a picture frame store, leaving the seafaring life and thus giving Eugene the liberty to chose his own path - since he had no vocation for it. Noticing his son's interest, Léonard arranged for Eugene to work as an assistant in a paper shop. He also worked in the workshop of Joseph Morlent, a local printer.
Later on, in 1844, Boudin followed his father's path and opened a framing shop with a business partner. In this period, he came to meet many artists working in the region. Boudin was interested in the local art scene and started to arrange exhibitions in his workspace. Among the exhibited paintings were works by Jean-Francois Millet and Constant Troyon.
These local events that the young Eugene Boudin held increased his taste in French painting. He came in contact with the Barbizon School painters, who advocated for trips to paint en plein air to develop a more intimate and immediate depiction of nature. The principles of the Barbizon School drew Boudin towards artistic creation, and he started to draw frequently. He was highly encouraged to pursue an artistic career by great names like Thomas Couture and Jean-Baptiste Isabey.
By the age of 22, he abandoned the commerce career and devoted himself only to painting. He had drawing classes offered by the local government. With the financial help of patron and journalist Alphonse Karr and the local Le Havre curator, he earned a scholarship of 1200 francs a year. With guaranteed financial stability, Boudin was able to travel to Flanders and Paris.
In 1851, the painter moved to Paris. He still returned to the Normandy region regularly to paint, as well as Brittany, usually during the summer. In the French capital, Boudin studied in Eugène Isabey's atelier, Jean-Batiste's son. Eugène Isabey was a highly successful painter, working as a court painter for King Louis Philippe. Boudin's teacher displayed technical mastery in dealing with genre painting, emphasizing historical painting and landscapes. During some time in England, the older painter dedicated himself to the study of JMW Turner's artworks, an influence that can be felt in Boudin's production.
Besides absorbing the teachings of Eugène Isabey, the painter enrolled in classes at the Louvre, where he was marveled by the masterpieces of the Old Masters and was able to create sketches. In the museum, Eugene Boudin began to be heavily influenced by the Dutch masters from the 17th century. He dedicated himself to the production of still lifes for many years, captivated by the Dutch paintings' accuracy and details.
In 1857, the artist held his first Parisian show and sold around 20 paintings in Le Havre's auction. He then came to meet the Dutch painter Johan Jongkind, who suggested that Boudin painted outdoors. The painter had many notable acquaintances, like Gustave Courbet, who introduced him to poet and critic Charles Baudelaire. He was the first critic to raise Boudin's artworks to the public's attention in his Paris Salon debut in 1859.
By that time, Boudin was already friends with young Claude Monet, who was still around 18 years old. Boudin's influences on Monet's work can be noticed, especially on how they represented water reflections. The senior painter introduced Monet to the habit of painting outside. They traveled together to a little farm in Honfleur; a place called the Saint-Siméon farm, a haven where Parisian and Normand landscape painters went to create and feel inspired. There, the two friends spent their days' painting and discussing artistic subjects.
Around 1862, Boudin was exhausted by commissioned works, and a shift happened in his production. He started to observe the French bourgeoisie on their touristic trips to Normandy's coastal region. Captivated by this subject, Boudin started to paint these beach scenes and suffered criticism from the general public as well as from his clientele, who considered the pictures "voyeuristic." On the other hand, this turn was appreciated by other artists and by critics.
With the techniques taught by Eugène Isabey and the overall influence from other artists, Boudin eventually came into his unique manner. His everlasting interest in depicting lighting, the trait that the Impressionists admired in his oeuvre, manifests itself through his production.
The sea and sky, constant subjects of his pictures, become elements where pictorial expression and investigation were renewed. In his correspondence with friends, he attests that he was "searching its lighting, the fulguration, the condensation, the search for the heat." Examples of work from this period are Laundresses on the Banks of the Touques V, Lighthouse at Honfleur, A Beach Scene, Women and Children on Beach at Trouville, Beach Scene XI, and Beach Scene, the Yellow Parasol.
In 1863, Eugene Boudin married Marie-Anne Guédès. Despite having a seemingly normal and happy marriage, they struggled financially. The couple frequently moved while living in Paris, searching for better rental prices, and lived under workshops. The painter had little space for his atelier and had to deal with insufficient lighting for years.
While searching for better living conditions, the couple moved to Trouville. In the same region, Gustave Courbet lived in Deauville, while Johan Barthold Jongkind and Claude Monet were at Honfleur. During this time, he frequently visited Brittany to paint and lived for some months in the commune of Le Faou. Camaret, Fishing Boats at Dock, Camaret, the Bay, Hopital-Camfrout Le Bourg, Douarnenez, the Bay, view of l'Ile Tristan are examples of paintings done during his stay in the area of Brittany.
Based on his experiences at the commune, Boudin, inspired by his brother, a journalist, wrote Notes d'un voyage en Bretagne, only published in 1924. In the essay, he gives detailed accounts of the region's daily life, describing the routine of the rural worker and local business. In these passages, he states about the pictures of Jean-François Millet and praises his way of capturing the countrymen at work.
The painter organized a public auction of his works in 1868. By this period, Eugene Boudin already had a trustable network of clients and was respected by his contemporaries. The pictures sold well. He was praised by his colleagues and attracted the attention of author Emile Zola. Zola was a champion of the naturalist strain of Realism and a severe literary critic. He studied with Paul Cezanne and was an animated supporter of painters like Manet, Courbet, and Delacroix. The critic was impressed by the painter's rendition of water and described his luminous work as masterful.
Through the event's success, Boudin was invited to decorate some interiors of a Castle, which took him the entire year of 1869. The next year was spent in Brussels, where he went to avoid the Franco-Prussian war. In these conflicted times, he spent his time painting his seascapes, occasionally visiting Normandy.
In 1874, Boudin joined Monet and his young painter friends in the first Impressionist exhibition, held at the studio of photographer Félix Nadar. Wanting to push the exhibition circuit beyond the yearly Salon - in which only Edouard Manet and Berthe Morisot participated in the 1873 installment - Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Degas, Sisley, and many other painters reunited and created the Société Anonyme des Artistes. Together, they decided not to defend a joint program but to allow artists to create freely and not restrict themselves to academic norms. There wasn't a curation, and each artist was allowed to exhibit two paintings each.
Even though the event suffered from rabid disapproval from art critics, who didn't take the group's freer and modern approach seriously, it later became recognized as the foundation of Impressionism. Many of the artworks exhibited are now famous masterpieces of its canon. Mocking the picture Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet, the journalist and painter Louis Leroy coined the term "Impressionism," with some of these artists later embracing the name.
Despite participating in this pivotal moment in art history and sharing the same passion and engagement with landscape painting and the practice of painting en plein air, Boudin never considered himself an innovator like his colleagues. He certainly learned with his friends and shared many of their inquiries, but he wasn't mainly focused on innovation. Yet, his work is essential to understand the formation of 19th century Impressionism. The Impressionists organized eight events throughout the years, in which they were steadily praised and backed up by art critics.
Because of the artist's growing reputation, he traveled extensively during the 1870s — he visited southern France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and later, several trips to Venice. Towards his late life, the artist continued to participate in exhibitions. In 1881, he received a third-place medal at the Paris Salon. Boudin participated in a show organized by Paul Durand Ruel in 1886, which happened in New York. In 1889, the French painter was awarded a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle, participating with Sunset and Seascape, Les Lamaneurs. In the same year, his wife Marie-Anne passed away.
Eugene Boudin's oeuvre was celebrated throughout his life. From his peers of the Barbizon School to the significant and influential artists such as Paul Cezanne, Camille Pissarro, and Claude Monet, passing through notable art critics like Charles Baudelaire and Emile Zola, he was hailed as one of the masters. As a consequence of his more introverted nature, or his unworried attitude towards the Modernist revolutionary spirit, he didn't quite achieve the level of fame as his contemporaries, but still was highly respected.
His paintings were collected by a diverse group of influential people such as author Ivan Tourgueniev, the playwright Georges Feydeau, the Rothschilds family, and the actor Cary Grant. His artwork was reevaluated since the 1920s, and his seascapes sold reasonably well through the years. Close partners such Camille Pissarro referred to him as the "king of skies," Claude Monet stated that "If I became a painter, it's because I am indebted to Boudin," who helped him to "see and understand." Baudelaire described him as "the painter of meteorological beauties," alluding to the sky's constant depiction in his pictures. In his short biography, the artist confesses his wish of "being a small part of the influence in the movement that takes painting to the study of lighting."
Among his most famous paintings is The Beach at Villerville. In the composition, the spectator can see two of his beloved motifs together: a daily scene of the bourgeoisie at leisure and the breathtaking depiction of the sky. It's possible to comprehend the enormous admiration gathered by the Impressionists in the immediate feeling that emerges from his use of the medium, a multi-colored yet subtle gradation in the sky, and the simplified forms representing the people patiently observing the sunset. Most of Eugene Boudin's paintings retain this outstanding balance between Modernism and a more subtle representation, a contained form of the Realists.
He painted around 4500 pictures during his life and left many sketches, drawings, and other studies. The André Malraux Museum, located at Le Havre, has its biggest collection with 224 paintings and many studies and pictures, which are part of a permanent exhibition. In Honfleur, there is the Eugene Boudin Museum, created by Boudin's friend Louis Alexander Dubourg. He donated 53 of the 93 Boudin artworks of the collection.
The last years of his life were quiet ones. He stayed a year in Saint Valery, during which he painted 60 works of varying moods of the city. In 1892, Boudin became a knight of the Legion of Honor, the highest civil and military order of merit of the French government. The decorative works of the event were prepared by artist Puvis de Chavannes, who convinced him to be part of the Société Nationale des Beaux-arts. In the same year, Boudin moved to Villefranche-sur-mer in the Côte d'Azur area.
Up until 1895, he made trips to Venice to keep himself inspired. While he visited Paris in 1898, he felt nauseated and asked to die in front of the sea. His friends granted his wish. The painter Eugene Boudin passed away in 1898, in the city of Deauville, Normandy, France.