Boudin and Monet's caricatures


When Boudin saw Monet's caricatures, he realized that the youngster had genuine talent. He made inquiries about him in the shop and the frame-maker tried to arrange a meeting between them. But Monet showed no interest and even went out of his way to avoid Boudin, till one day, by chance, they ran into each other at the frame-maker's. The shopkeeper seized the opportunity and introduced them. "Boudin came over at once and started talking to me in his soft voice, saying nice things about my work: 'I like your sketches, they're very amusing, very neatly done. You're gifted, anybody can see that. But you're not going to stop there, I hope. This is all right for a start, but you'll soon have had your fill of caricature. You want to buckle down and study hard, learn to see and paint, go out and sketch, do some landscapes. What beauty there is in the sea and sky, in animals, people and trees, just as nature made them, just as they are, with a character of their own, with a life of their own in the light and air of nature.' But Boudin's advice was lost on me. As for the man himself, I couldn't help liking him. He meant what he said, he was sincere all right, I felt that. But I couldn't stomach his painting, and whenever he offered to take me out sketching with him in the open country, I always had some pretext or other for a polite refusal. Summer came, my time was more or less my own, I could hardly put him off any longer. So to get it over with I gave in and Boudin, with unfailing kindness, took me in hand. In the end my eyes were opened and I gained a real understanding of nature, and a real love of her as well."
Elsewhere, in another account of his youthful initiation, Monet described it as "a bolt from the blue." "All of a sudden it was like a veil torn from my eyes and I understood at last, I realized what painting could be." But whether progressive or sudden it was a twofold revelation, both of painting and nature, of each in terms of the other. This is a point of cardinal importance, for apart from a few brief excursions into other fields Monet's entire body of work was oriented toward nature. "If I have become a painter, I owe it to Boudin."
Boudin was thirty-four, Monet seventeen. Throughout the summer of 1858 they painted together, directly from nature. In his efforts to capture the freshness and spontaneity of his initial sensation, Boudin turned out sketch after sketch, and it was these which Baudelaire described as "studies so rapidly, so faithfully registering the most transient and elusive states of form and color, of waves and clouds." Instead of painting conventional clouds, Boudin endeavored to record their most fleeting aspects. To do so, he had to work out a technique rapid and flexible enough to capture every hue and nuance of that element in perpetual metamorphosis -- the sky.
Boudin not only set Monet the example but gave him sensible advice, always in clear and simple terms. "The first impression is the right one, be just as stubborn as you can in sticking to it . . . Whatever is painted directly, on the spot, always has a vigor, a power, a vivacity of touch that can't be recovered in the studio . . . Three brushstrokes from nature are worth more than two days' work at the easel."
But Monet realized that the teaching and example of a single master, however admirable, was not enough; that he needed to broaden his horizon, to confront and compare his work with that of others. "It's no good persevering in isolation, unless of course one is supremely gifted, and even then you cannot expect to invent an art all by yourself, in a country town, cut off from criticism and points of comparison, with nothing but your own instinct to guide you." Thus stimulated by Boudin, Monet was eager to go to Paris, visit the exhibitions and frequent the studios. His father accordingly applied to the Municipal Council of Le Havre for a grant, such as Boudin had received eight years earlier.
This was in 1859. After two months the application was rejected. The worthy aldermen of Le Havre felt that his caricatures failed to show any aptitude for the more serious, more laborious studies which alone could qualify for municipal largess. Perhaps too they had misgivings about the sponsorship of Boudin who, in their eyes, had betrayed the trust which the municipality had placed in him.


Mail Us