(Honfleur, France, 1824 - 1898, Deauville, France)
Louis Eugène Boudin was born on July 12, 1824, in Honfleur, France. (1) His father, initially a deckhand and later captain of his own packet boat, and his mother, a stewardess, raised Boudin on the coast of Normandy. As a boy, Boudin worked on his father’s boat, Le Polichinelle, but his own career as deckhand ended at the age of ten when he fell overboard.
In 1835 Boudin moved with his parents to Le Havre where his father set up a stationary and framing store. Boudin worked as an assistant in his father’s shop until establishing his own store in 1844 with his friend Jean Archer. Here, Boudin met, and showed the work, of Jean-Baptiste Isabey (French, 1767–1855), Constant Troyon (French, 1810–1865), and Jean-Francois Millet (French, 1814–1875). These artists were associated with the Barbizon School of painting in France, so-called for the artists’ interest in painting the residents, landscape, and the woodlands of the Barbizon area. Upon discovering that Boudin was an aspiring artist, Millet told him, “An artist’s life is not fit for a dog”. (2) Soon after, Boudin was drafted into the French army. To focus on his art career rather than enlisting, he sold his share of the shop to Archer to buy a substitute who would serve in his place in the military.
With a small amount of money in hand, Boudin left Le Havre for Paris and Belgium to study the art of the Barbizon painters and the Flemish masters. In 1851 Boudin received a grant from the city of Le Havre and used it to paint in Honfleur. For eight years Boudin worked nonstop on maritime subjects but made few sales.
In 1857 Boudin met the young Claude Monet (French, 1840–1926) in a shop in Le Havre. At the time, Monet was known for his caricatures of townspeople. Though impressed with his drawings, Boudin encouraged Monet to paint nature rather than people. Monet wrote of this change in subject, “It suddenly seemed, as if a veil were torn off. I understood what painting could be. My future, becoming a painter, opened up… I owe it to Eugène Boudin”. (3)
The end of the 1850s brought about more success for Boudin’s career as a landscape painter. He had a piece exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1859, and he set up a studio on Boulevard Montmartre in Paris shortly after. Though he was established in Paris, he visited Normandy and Brittany each summer to paint the coast. Throughout the 1860’s Boudin’s art was increasingly well received, and he prospered as an artist. In 1874 Boudin exhibited in the first Impressionist exhibition in Paris.
The Parisian dealer Paul Durand-Ruel organized an exhibition of Boudin’s work in 1881. The exhibition received much acclaim, and Durand-Ruel became his exclusive art dealer. By 1892, a painful nerve disease compelled Boudin to paint in warmer climates, such as the South of France and Venice. Boudin died of stomach cancer in Deauville, on August 8, 1898.
Early in his career, Boudin favored the subject of leisure scenes situated on the coast of Normandy. However, he shifted to painting harbor scenes and landscapes in the 1870’s when he began to believe that his paintings of the upper class, only a small fraction of society, were not accurate portrayals of the world as he knew it. (4) His dissatisfaction was probably consistent with the influence of the Realist painters such as Gustave Courbet (French, 1819-1877) who championed the painting of subjects associated with the life of the common man. One of the first artists to paint en plein air, Boudin believed, “one’s first impression… is the good one”. (5) He sought spontaneity and like the later Impressionist painters, worked in broad strokes to capture the unique character of light and color in nature. Though he only exhibited with the Impressionists once, and worked directly only with Monet, he shared many of the same ideologies as this group of artists and his atmospheric effects and loose brushwork mirror the style of 19th-century Impressionism.
(1) The information in this documentation was compiled from the following sources: Information on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama; Close, Timothy. "French and American Impressionism": September 12 - November 3, 1996. Albany: Albany Museum of Art, n.d.; Linnehan, Genevieve A., and Linnea S. Dietrich. "The Subjective Vision of French Impressionism." Tampa: Tampa Museum, 1981.; Stamberg, Susan. "Eugene Boudin: The Man Who Inspired Monet." NPR. NPR, 1 July 2010. accessesed 15 Aug. 2013; Young, Mahorni S., and Katherine W. Paris. "Louis Eugène Boudin: Precursor of Impressionism." Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1976.
(2) Young, Mahorni S., and Katherine W. Paris. "Louis Eugène Boudin: Precursor of Impressionism." Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1976. p. 4.
(3) Close, Timothy. "French and American Impressionism." September 12 - November 3, 1996. Albany: Albany Museum of Art, n.d., p. 9
(5) Linnehan, Genevieve A., and Linnea S. Dietrich. "The Subjective Vision of French Impressionism." Tampa: Tampa Museum, 1981. p. 12
Image credit: Pierre Petit, Eugène Boudin, about 1880, Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, (c) PD-US-expired