Eugène Boudin is best known for sparkling beach scenes painted in the Normandy resorts of Trouville and Deauville, a motif which he explored with great subtlety from the early 1860s to the mid-1890s. Boudin was born in Honfleur, the son of a harbour pilot, so the sea was in his blood. After studying in Paris from 1847 to 1854, he returned each summer to his beloved Normandy coast, sketching and painting from nature. Winters were spent in his Paris studio preparing works for exhibition.
Boudin’s beach scenes from the 1870s, show an impressionistic deftness and freedom of brushwork replaced the more deliberately modelled compositions of the 1860s. Boudin was interested in the relationship of figures, sand, sea and sky, refracted in the dazzling coastal light. The sense of airiness and space in his small paintings is palpable. Boudin controls the frieze-like composition of the figures by means of subtly interlocking hues of black, white (in the fashionable dress of the Parisian holidaymakers), cream, buff, subdued blues.
Boudin was a perfectionist who struggled all his life to find a sufficiently expressive technique to set down what he saw before him in nature. He wrote in his Journal: ‘Sometimes when I’m out walking….I look at this light which floods the earth, which quivers on the water and plays on clothes and it is frightening to think how much genius is required to capture so many difficulties….And then again I sense that the poetry is there and sense how to capture it’ (quoted in Vivien Hamilton, Boudin at Trouville, London 1992, p 90). Boudin stressed above all the importance of painting en plein air, a lesson which he passed on to Monet, who was his unofficial pupil in the 1850s. As a result, Boudin was invited to participate in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874.
Eugène Boudin was one of the most important precursors of the Impressionists, whose ever increasing critical acclaim rests on his unrivalled reputation as a master of beach and coastal scenes.
He was born in Honfleur, the son of a harbour pilot. In 1844, Boudin opened a stationary and framing shop in Le Havre, where his clients included Couture, Isabey, Millet and Troyon. Although Boudin had no academic training, he spent much time drawing, and the visiting painters greatly encouraged his innate artistic ability.
In 1847, Boudin went to Paris and devoted his attention to studying and copying Old Masters in the Louvre. In 1851, he was awarded a three year scholarship by the City of Le Havre. Instead of pursuing indoor, academic studio work however, Boudin painted 'plein air', making trips to Le Havre, Honfleur and other coastal towns. He made his debut at the Salon in 1859, where his work was much admired by Baudelaire and Courbet, and he was heralded by Corot as the 'king of the skies'.
It was Eugène Boudin who was to become Monet's first teacher, persuading him to paint out of doors, 'nature truly seen in all its variety and freshness' (Boudin), and in 1874, he was invited to participate in the first Impressionist exhibition.
He spent the rest of his career painting primarily around the coast of Le Havre, Honfleur and Trouville, inspired by the elegant society that people the sparkling coasts. Whilst painting at Trouville, he met the Dutch artist, Johan Barthold Jongkind, and influenced by his boldness of technique, Boudin likewise adopted a freer brushwork and brighter palette.
The exquisite sensibility of Boudin's work was recognised by the dealer Durand-Ruel, who organised exhibitions of his pictures in 1883, 1889, 1890 and 1891; in 1892, Boudin was awarded the Legion d'honneur.