Eugene Boudin, an apprentice sailor

Eugene Boudin may not be one of the best known painters, but he is one of the most influential of the 19th century and is considered a precursor of Impressionism.

Marine au grand ciel by Eugene Boudin
Marine au grand ciel by Eugene Boudin

So I will do my best to remedy this!

Eugene Boudin was born in Honfleur in 1824 and his family moves to Le Havre 10 years later.

A harbor pilot’s son, he works briefly as an apprentice on the maritime line connecting Le Havre to his hometown.

From his short sailing career, he develops a passion for travels that’ll lead him later in life to the Netherlands, but also to the French Riviera and Venice.

It’s from this period that his passion for the Channel, sea skies, beaches and the Norman river banks dates, passion that makes him one of the Great Masters of seascapes.

A few years later, he gives up sailing life, for which he has no great passion, to become a printing and stationery clerk and assistant stationer-framer.

From sailor to full time seascape painter

The first major turning point in his life is 1844.

Women on the beach at Berck by Eugene Boudin
Women on the beach at Berck by Eugene Boudin

Women on the beach at Berck by Eugene Boudin

He is then 20 and founds his own framing shop where he exhibits the works of painters who come to paint the Normandy coastline.

There, he meets Constant Toy, Jean-François Millet, Thomas Couture and Eugène Isabey.

Isabey, a specialist in instant, live-action scenes, a style that heralds Impressionism, has a decisive influence on him.

All soon acknowledge Boudin’s innate talent for painting and encourage him to embark on an artistic career.

Two years later Eugene enrolls at the Municipal School of Drawing in Le Havre and from then on becomes a full-time seascape painter.

His talent is clear! In 1851 the city council of Le Havre awards him a 3-year scholarship to study at Isabey’s Parisian studio.

Fishermen's wives at the seaside by Eugene Boudin
Fishermen’s wives at the seaside by Eugene Boudin

During his stay, he also enlists at the Louvre as a copyist where he produces many master copies.

From 1855, he spends his winters in Paris and summers in Normandy, but also in Brittany to perfect his technique of marine scenes. It is moreover during one of his stays in Brittany that he meets his future wife.

His first Parisian exhibition in 1857 gives him a certain recognition from the public, which enables him to sell his first paintings in Le Havre.

However, one of the paintings he exhibits 2 years later at the Paris Salon earns him notoriety when art amateurs notice the unique style of its marine pastels and atmospheres.

In the years that follow he befriends the painter Gustave Courbet, the Dutch Jongkind and the young Claude Monet, whom he’ll later introduce to outdoors painting.

Boudin meets Claude Monet

Boudin meets Claude Monet in Le Havre in 1857 and recognizes in the caricatures the 17-year-old produces an innate talent for drawing and painting.

Deeming the cartoons a loss of talent, he takes young Monet to the Normandy beaches where he introduces him to outdoors painting.

Monet and his mentor remain good friends all their life.

Sea bathing trend in Normandy

Boudin manages to live from the sale of his paintings until 1862, the second pivotal year of his career!

The trend for sea bathing, popularized by the Empress Eugénie with the commissioning of the Paris-Normandy railway line, gives new impetus to his artistic style.

He indeed decides to set up his easel on the Normandy beaches to sketch the bourgeoisie and aristocracy of the time as they discover the benefits of sea bathing while indulging in a vibrant social life.

The Beach at Trouville
The Beach at Trouville

He’s found his artistic niche!

He abandons his seascapes to sketch from life hundreds of small beach scenes where he represents crowds.

His first paintings are initially considered “voyeuristic” by the public, but attracts the attention of avant-garde artists who are seduced by the modernity of his style!

Encouraged by these, Eugene Boudin continues over the following years to sketch the coastal towns and beaches of Brittany and Normandy.

He shares his time between the 2 regions and stays in Honfleur with Jongkind and Monet and in Deauville with Courbet.

Boudin meets Johan Jongkind

The third turning point in Boudin’s career is 1862 when he meets with the Dutch Johan Jongkind who becomes his mentor and significantly influences him.

Jongkind developed his own style from the techniques of his compatriot Rubens, but replaced dark with bright colors and gave precedence to the landscapes and not to the characters.

The Bay of Fourmis in Beaulieu
The Bay of Fourmis in Beaulieu by Eugene Boudin

His technique had not escaped the notice of Eugene Isabey, who discovered Jongkind in The Hague in 1845 and invited him to be his pupil in his studio at Place Pigalle in Paris.

There Jongkind met many painters of the time, in particular those of the famous Barbizon School, who introduced to him the basic principles of Impressionism.

Jongkind and Isabey went regularly to paint in Fécamp, Yport and Valéry-en-Caux in Normandy in the 1850s.

In 1862 Jongkind meets Boudin and Monet in Honfleur and shares with both his love of seascapes and outdoors painting.

Eugene Boudin, precursor of Impressionism despite himself!

1874 is another decisive year for Boudin.

He exhibits (alongside Monet) at the 1st Impressionist Salon that takes place in the Parisian studios of photographer Felix Nadar.

Port of Le Havre by Eugene Boudin
Port of Le Havre by Eugene Boudin

Monet’s Impression au soleil levant, which he painted one morning of November 1872 in the port of Le Havre, left its name to Impressionism.

Boudin’s attendance to the exhibition earns him to be considered one of the precursors of Impressionism, although he never saw himself innovative enough!

His growing notoriety takes him to Flanders, the Netherlands and the south of France where he is introduced to the various artistic movements of the late 19th century.

The 1880s are the consecration!

He wins 3rd place at the Paris Salon with his painting La Meuse, in Rotterdam.

Six years later, several of his paintings are exhibited with great success at the Impressionists Exhibition in New York!

He wins the Gold Medal at the Universal Expo in 1889 (the year of the Eiffel Tower) with two paintings Un coucher de soleil et marine and Les Lamaneurs.

A great seascape painter rests in St. Vincent Cemetery

Sadly, 1889 is also the year his wife dies and his health begins to decline.

Three years later, he moves to Villefranche-sur-mer in the south of France to take advantage of the mild climate and visits Venice on several occasions.

He returns to Paris in 1898 and asks to be transported to Deauville to die “facing the sea”, looking at the skies and beaches he painted throughout his life.

He dies on August 8 in the Villa Brelloque, a superb Art Nouveau residence on the shoreline.

According to his wish, Eugene Boudin is buried in Saint-Vincent Cemetery in Montmartre.

Honfleur founded a museum dedicated to this great artist, an opportunity to discover more about him!

Wikimedia Commons: HeaderMarine au grand ciel 1860Women on the beach at Berck 1881Fishermen’s wives at the seaside 1872The beach at Trouville 1884Port of Le Havre circa 1886

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