The biography of Eugène Boudin (1824 - 1898)

Eugène Boudin (1824 - 1898) was one of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors (in the open air), directly from nature, mostly known for his paintings of sea and sky. Boudin was a marine painter, and expert in the rendering of all that goes upon the sea and along its shores. His many beach scenes directly link the carefully observed naturalism of the early 19th century and the brilliant light and fluid brushwork of late 19th-century Impressionism.

Eugène Boudin was born at Honfleur, Normandy, as the son of a sailor, on July 12, 1824, and remained faithful to his native province throughout his long life. His father worked as cabin boy onboard the rickety steamer that sailed between Le Havre and Honfleur across the estuary of the Seine. He died August 8, 1898, Deauville.

Eugene Boudin began working at a framing business in Le Havre. He worked in a small art shop where Claude Monet displayed his artwork. But before old age came on him, Boudin’s father abandoned seafaring, and his son gave it up too, having no real vocation for it, though he preserved to his last days much of a sailor’s character, frankness, accessibility, and open-heartedness.

In 1835 his family moved to Le Havre, where his father established himself as stationer and frame-maker. He was attracted to art at the age of 12, when he began to work as an assistant in stationery and framing store before opening his own small shop. Lemasle, the shop keeper, gave him instruction, and Boudin remained there until he was 18. He then set up a shop of his own. There he came into contact with artists working in the area and exhibited in his shop the paintings of Constant Troyon and Jean François Millet, who, along with Jean-Baptiste Isabey and Thomas Couture, encouraged young Boudin to follow an artistic career. Encouraged at an early age mostly by Millet, Boudin studied briefly in Paris, where he became enamoured of the paintings of Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.

At the age of 22 he abandoned the world of commerce, started painting full-time, and traveled to Paris the following year and then through Flanders. In 1850 he earned a scholarship that enabled him to move to Paris, although he often returned to paint in Normandy. Back on the Atlantic coast in 1853, Boudin began to paint the sea, his lifelong passion, making careful annotations on the backs of his paintings of the weather, the light, and the time of day.

Dutch 17th century masters profoundly influenced him, and on meeting the Dutch painter Johann-Barthold Jongkind, Boudin was advised by his new friend to paint outdoors. He also worked with Troyon and Isabey, and in 1859 met Gustave Courbet who introduced him to Charles Baudelaire, the first critic to draw Boudin’s talents to public attention when the artist made his debut at the 1859 Paris Salon.

In 1857 Boudin met the young Claude Monet, then only 18 years old, who spent several months working with Boudin in his studio. The two remained lifelong friends and Monet later paid tribute to Boudin’s early influence. Boudin joined Monet and his young friends in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but never considered himself a radical or innovator.

Boudin’s growing reputation enabled him to travel extensively in the 1870s. He visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895 made regular trips to Venice. He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salons, receiving a third place medal at the Paris Salon of 1881, and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. In 1892 Boudin was made a knight of the Légion d'honneur, a somewhat tardy recognition of his talents and influence on the art of his contemporaries.

Late in his life he returned to the south of France as a refuge from ill-health, and recognizing soon that the relief it could give him was almost spent, he returned to his home at Deauville, to die within sight of Channel waters and under Channel skies.

Boudin first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1859 (and then at the 1863 at the Salon des Refusés) a piece entitled Le Pardon de Sainte-Anne-Palud au fond de la baie de Douarnenez (Finistre). His work reflected the styles and techniques of the Barbizon school. He took part in the first Impressionist exhibit in 1874 and from 1875 onward he exhibited in the official Salon.

Durand-Ruel had bought most of Boudin’s works in 1881, and had promoted them vigorously with exhibitions in 1883, 1889, and 1891 in Paris, and 1898 in New York. Although his beach scenes sold well, he received little recognition until 1888, when the French government began to buy a few of his works for the Luxembourg Gallery.

He obtained a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 and ten years later, a year after his death, he was the subject of a posthumous retrospective exhibition held at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. The retrospective consisted of 304 paintings, 73 pastels, and 20 works in watercolor. He eventually was generally recognized as a master and in 1892, when he was 68 years old, received the Legion of Honour.