Although some of those who had contributed most to the birth of Impressionism, including Jongkind, Corot and Manet, didn’t show their work in the First Impressionist Exhibition, one who did was Eugène Louis Boudin (1824–1898). He showed a total of thirteen paintings, yet his name is normally omitted from lists of those in the movement, and his work remains relatively unknown.
Boudin was born in Honfleur, on the north coast of France at the mouth of the River Seine opposite Le Havre, on 12 July 1824. His father worked on the ferry to Le Havre, and in 1835 the family moved to Le Havre, where the following year Eugène started work at a printer’s then a stationery shop.
In 1844 he opened his own stationers which also framed paintings, but the following year Millet saw some of his amateur paintings, and Boudin resolved to make painting his future. His shop framed the work of, and sold art materials to, Couture, Troyon, and Millet. It was a centre of artistic activity which attracted the young Claude Monet, who also grew up in Le Havre, to seek Boudin’s counsel and instruction.
By 1847, Boudin had made his way to Paris, where he started studying paintings in museums and galleries. He returned to Le Havre, and in 1851 was awarded a scholarship by his local council to study painting in Paris. His application was supported by Thomas Couture and Constant Troyon.
Until 1860, he lived in Paris, copying paintings in the Louvre, and returned to the north coast to paint there en plein air whenever he could. However, he didn’t apparently engage in the anticipated studies at the École des Beaux-Arts, and remained largely self-taught. He had his first painting accepted for the Salon of 1859, two years later he worked with Troyon, and the following year made friends with Jongkind. Two years later he met with Monet and Jongkind and the three painted together in Honfleur.
On the last weekend in August, 1857, Boudin visited the Finistère region’s largest religious celebration, and made sketches in oils, including this The Pardon of Sainte-Anne-La-Palud (study) (1858). These he used to paint a more traditionally finished oil painting, shown in the Paris Salon the following year, where it was praised by Baudelaire.
More typical of his early finished paintings, The Beach (1864) shows an assorted gathering beneath one of Boudin’s wonderful skies. These became such a feature of his work that Corot described him as ‘the master of the skies’.
The Beach at Villerville (1864) shows a dusk setting unusual among Boudin’s beach paintings. It’s set in another small seaside community between Trouville and Honfleur.
Boudin travelled from Paris to paint On the Beach, Dieppe in 1864.
For a while, he painted celebrities including Princess Pauline Metternich on the Beach (1865-7) when they visited the seaside around Honfleur and Le Havre, but as he became more successful in the Salon, he dropped these opportunistic sketches.
He also painted many ports, ships and boats, and riverside scenes, such as Village by a River (c 1867), whose location remains uncertain.
His oil sketches, here of a Lady in White on the Beach at Trouville (1869), were amazingly loose and painterly, and clear inspiration to Claude Monet and the Impressionists more generally.
He started to achieve commercial success in 1864, his income peaking in 1872, but declining thereafter. His friendship with and support to Monet resulted in him being invited to take part in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874. His first entry in its catalogue could be any of three paintings.
The first two, both known as Camaret, Le Toulinguet (c 1871) and showing almost identical views, include the version above in a private collection, and another now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (not shown). Boudin painted at Camaret, in Brittany, each year between 1870 and 1873.
The third possibility is this, Camaret, Le Toulinguet (1872), in a private collection.
He also painted scenes of local people and their activities along the northern coast, such as this Fishermen’s Wives at the Seaside (1872).
According to the exhibition catalogue, Boudin showed a total of thirteen works in Nadar’s studio, described as:
- Le Toulinguet, côtes de Camaret, Finistère (see above),
- Shore at Portrieux, Côtes du Nord (two paintings),
- Four pastel sky studies,
- Two other pastel studies,
- Four watercolours of the beach at Trouville.
Quite a few of his watercolours have survived, and appear mostly quick plein air studies anticipating more substantial works in oil. Sadly, most of his pastels seem to have been lost, although this suggests that he used the medium relatively often.
Boudin’s career appeared little affected by the First Impressionist Exhibition, and he didn’t return to show his work at the group’s later exhibitions. Instead, he concentrated on achieving success in the Salon, and better marketing. In 1881, he became represented by Paul Durand-Ruel, and in 1883 the Durand-Ruel Gallery staged his first one-man exhibition in Paris. That year he was also awarded a second class medal in the Salon.
In Ary Scheffer Place, Dordrecht (1884) he sketched a more urban scene, although still with water at its heart.
In Parc Cordier in Trouville (c 1880-5), under another of his masterly skies, he captures the texture of foliage particularly well. Following his early inspiration by Troyon, he painted many views of cattle and the fields immediately inland of the north French coast too.
As with many artists at the time, he painted Washerwomen by the River (c 1880-5).
In 1885, Boudin visited the south of France during the winter, and from 1890 onwards spent the winter months there, so that he could continue to paint. In 1887 his works were shown in the USA, where he was represented by Durand-Ruel. Further exhibitions followed in France.
Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. The Mouth of the Somme (1891) is another more colourful view featuring the setting sun, further north-east along the coast from Le Havre.
In the early 1890s, when he was in his late sixties, Eugène Boudin became full post-Impressionist in Cliffs at Étretat (1890-94), one of several paintings he made then of the cliffs and beach.
Once he started visiting the Mediterranean coast, he painted many of its views, including The Bay of Fourmis (1892). Still unpopulated and unspoilt at that time, this is situated between Nice and Monaco, not far from the border with Italy.
View of Antibes. The Quay, Morning (1893) is on the Côte d’Azur between Cannes and Nice, again not far from the Italian border. High speed direct train services to this area had started back in the 1880s, opening access to artists and tourists alike.
Boudin visited Venice several times. Among his paintings there is Piazzetta San Marco in Venice (1895), which adopts the same view and composition as Renoir’s earlier Doge’s Palace, Venice (1881). This painting is sometimes mis-titled as the Piazza San Marco, which it doesn’t show. The tower is the high Campanile.
His health deteriorated rapidly in 1898, and he died on 8 August that year. It’s estimated that he produced over 4,000 oil paintings, and over 7,000 pastels, watercolours, and drawings.
Rehs Galleries – good collection of maritimes, and a long biography and appreciation
Hans Weevers’ page with a thorough literature survey.
The First Impressionist Exhibition (in Italian), containing
the exhibition catalogue
Bergeret-Gourbin A-M (1996) Eugène Boudin. Peintures et Dessins. Catalogue Raisonné Musée Eugène Boudin Honfleur, Somogy Éditions d’Art. ISBN 978 2 8505 6250 1.
His latest catalogue raisonné is by R Schmit, in three main volumes, 1973, with two supplementary volumes, in 1984 and 1993, all published by Galerie Schmit, Paris.