One of the more notable absentees from the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874 was Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819–1891), who was invited but declined, as his life started a descent into drinking and depression.
Jongkind was born in Lattrop, in the Netherlands, near its border with Germany. He trained at the Drawing Academy in the Hague from 1837, before moving to Montmartre in Paris in 1846 at the invitation of Eugène Isabey (1803-1886), who became his next teacher. Isabey is another underrated artist whose romantic landscapes merit greater attention.
During trips to Normandy and Brittany in 1847, Jongkind got to know several established painters, including the younger William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) and Alexandre Cabanel (1823-1889), both destined for fame and success in their history painting. In 1848 Jongkind’s first painting was accepted by the Paris Salon, with a second in 1850.
Jongkind’s fine View of Maassluis in Winter from 1848 is a good example of his early work, presumably painted when he was back in the Netherlands during the winter. Following the long tradition of landscape painting in the Netherlands, he sets his horizon low and paints a wonderful winter sky. Underneath that, the locals are skating along a frozen canal.
Here, from a couple of years later, is a View of Montmartre showing its tumbledown cottages, rustic horses and carts on mud tracks, and three distinctive windmills on the skyline. For these paintings, Jongkind received critical acclaim from the likes of Baudelaire, and later Émile Zola, but did not enjoy commercial success, although one of his paintings was bought by the French State.
In 1851, he seems to have travelled west to Brittany, where, not far from the port of Brest, he painted this view of Rue Saint-Thomas in Landerneau, with its cobbles and hanging carcasses outside a butcher’s shop. His brushwork is already loosening up.
If I had to pick one of Jongkind’s paintings which most heralded Impressionism, it would be this marvellous view of Étretat Harbour, painted in the rich colours of sunset in 1852, more than a decade before Monet. Unlike most of the later Impressionist views, it shows the famous chalk cliffs from the small fishing port and village.
Jongkind again had success in the Salon, that year receiving a third class medal. The following year, he met Gustave Courbet, Thomas Couture, and Nadar, the photographer whose studio was later to host the first Impressionist Exhibition. He also managed to sell some of his oil paintings and watercolours at last, and in the autumn he visited London for a week, but his continuing poor sales forced him to return to Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
In 1857, he visited Paris briefly, where he dined with Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, and Jean-François Millet, some of the major landscape painters of the day.
His sketchy mark-making was now plain to see in plein air landscapes such as this showing the Environs of Breda in 1857. This was painted in the countryside around the city of Breda, in the far south of the Netherlands close to Belgium.
In 1862, Jongkind travelled to Honfleur, on the French north coast, where he met Alfred Sisley, Eugène Boudin, and Claude Monet. Over the next couple of years, the three painted en plein air together on the coast of Normandy. In 1863 he exhibited three paintings in the first Salon des Refusés in Paris.
In 1865, Jongkind was at last more successful at the Salon. Three of his landscapes were accepted that year, and for the following four years, he showed two paintings each year. I suspect that this view of a Little Channel on the Seine at Meudon from 1865 was among them.
Jongkind was particularly enthusiastic to record the many changes occurring in Paris and its suburbs at this time. This view of Demolition Work in Rue des Franc-Bourgeois St Marcel (1868) was later turned into quite a successful etching.
By the late 1860s, the Impressionists were gathering in Paris and forming a movement, but Jongkind remained an outsider.
In the early 1870s, Jongkind tried a series of atmospheric nocturnes, which gave him even greater scope to develop his painterly style. The painting above shows Overschie in the Moonlight, what was then a village on the edge of Rotterdam, in 1871. That below is a second from the following year.
In 1874, Jongkind was invited to join the First Impressionist Exhibition in Paris, but declined. This seems to mark the start of his descent into episodic depression and heavy drinking.
This watercolour of a Fishing Boat from 1878 is so gestural that it might most appropriately hang alongside works from the early twentieth century. As he lapsed into increasingly severe bouts of depression and alcoholism, these wonderful works came less and less often.
Jongkind painted throughout the 1880s, as this watercolour of the Road near La Côte-Saint-André from 1885 attests. But he was now forgotten, and finally died near Grenoble in 1891. When Impressionism was promoted so heavily in the late twentieth century, his name was excluded and his works left in obscurity.
Association of the Friends of Jongkind
Sillevis J (2002) Jongkind, Aquarelles, Bibliothèque de l’Image. ISBN 978 2 914 66135 5.