BOUDIN Eugène
French painter born in Honfleur in 1824; died in Deauville, 1898. Two-thirds of a picture taken up with sky, the other third with the sea and a tiny fringe of sand scintillating with the fresh colours of women in crinoline -- that is what the name of Boudin conjures up. But this is an unjust definition of a body of work that derives its unity from the way in which the subjects are treated, rather than from the subjects themselves. In fact, whether it be on the shores of the Channel or in Brittany or Holland, or in Brussels, Bordeaux or Venice, Boudin always looks at Nature with the tender solicitude of a lover of light. He did not paint landscapes or figures so much as the way in which they received this light, and lived on it. He did not represent volumes, but caught reflections. No more need be said to make it understood that he was one of the most obvious precursors of Impressionism. Boudin, however, was not trying to do anything revolutionary when he painted those cloudy skies iridescent with an infinite variety of greys; he exhibited very properly at the official salon, where he won the Gold Medal in 1889, at the time of the Exposition Universelle, and the Legion of Honour in 1892. Success had come at last, to reward him for years of patient work; but, despite this official recognition that came to him so late, he thought that his young Impressionist friends (who actually owed much to him) were infinitely greater than he was. For he was as modest and quiet as his painting. However, Corot said to him 'You are the king of skies', and Courbet: 'You are a seraph; you alone know the sky'. This confirmed what Baudelaire said when he wrote that one can guess the season, the hour and the wind from Boudin's studies. This concern for exactness, which matters less to us today, was not unimportant in the eyes of artists at that time. Boudin never dreamed of denying the importance of the subject. 'Peasants', he wrote, 'hold an attraction for some painters . . . but, between ourselves, have not these bourgeois who stroll along the jetty towards the setting sun the right to be put on canvas, to be led towards the light?' But Eugène Boudin did not deceive himself as much as might appear from that confession of faith, for he wrote elsewhere, referring to the same people: 'One feels a certain shame in painting this complete idleness. Happily, the Creator has shed a little of his splendid and warming light everywhere, and we do not reproduce the world so much as the element which envelops it.' These two quotations are contradictory, but there is one word that figures in both -- light. And that is what dominates all Boudin's work; that is how he understood the lesson of Jongkind, and proclaimed the necessity of painting in light colours and raised the curtain on Impressionism. Boudin also painted still lifes, landscapes and even a few portraits. But he constantly came back to the seaside beneath vast expanses of sky, less to satisfy a clientèle that admired him as a 'seascape painter' than to satisfy his own longings, and doubtless because he found there what we find when we look at every one of his canvases -- a sense of relaxation and peaceful expansiveness, a sweet intoxication. For in his works Nature is alive but not troubled. The vision is clear but not static, and everything is said in it without anything being affirmed brutally.
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