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On the Beach, Dieppe, 1864

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Artist Boudin, Eugène

On and off after 1850, Eugene Boudin retained a studio in Paris during the winter months, where he developed into finished works the drawings, watercolours, and oil sketches he had done out of doors during more clement weather. Yet, for all his absorption with life in the capital and with the swift developments in painting that were taking place there, he often yearned for his native Le Havre and the surrounding area of Normandy, the source for much of his art. In June 1869, detained in Paris, he wrote to а family friend: "I daren't think of the sun-drenched Beaches and the stormy skies, and of the joy of painting them in the sea Breezed."

This deep desire to reabsorb himself in nature—particularly the Norman coast—points up the critical role Boudin would play in the history of French landscape painting. By working directly from nature and attempting to retain the freshness of spontaneous vision in his finished oils, he introduced а type of naturalistic painting from which there could be no retreat, as Baudelaire was among the first to note. That he generously shared this joy he took in his native region, and in painting it as directly as he knew how, first with Courbet and Whistler and then, most critically, with the young Claude (then Oscar) Monet, gave him the distinction, in later criticism, of being the 'Precursor of Impressionism' а distinction that, while certainly just, tends to eclipse his essentially modest yet enchantingly fresh and vivid pictures.

Born near the harbour at Le Havre, Boudin developed as an artist with а strong sense of his own limitations, setting for himself the goal to do justice to nature in а way that he first learned from Constant Troyon (1810-1865), for whom he acted as а studio assistant, while closely heeding the works of Millet and Corot. By the late 1850s he had achieved а style of such individuality that Baudelaire, after а chance meeting in Le Havre while visiting his mother, wrote а last- minute insertion to his Salon review of 1859 praising the works he had seen in Boudin's studio: "On the margin of each of these studies, so rapidly and so faithfully sketched from the waves and the clouds (which are of all things the most inconstant and difficult to grasp, Both in form and in colour), he has inscribed the date, the time and the wind.... If you have ever had the time to Become acquainted with these meteorological Beauties, you will Be able to verify by memory the accuracy of М. Boudin's observations. Cover the inscription with your hand, and you could guess the season, the time and the wind. I am not exaggerating. I have seen it. In the end, all these clouds, with their fantastic and luminous forms; these ferments of gloom; these immensities of green and pink, suspended and added one upon another: these gaping furnaces; these firmaments of Black or purple satin, crumpled, rolled or torn; these horizons in mourning, or streaming with molten metal—in short, all these depths and all these splendours rose to my brain like а heady drink or like the eloquence of opium.”

Such full-blown praise did not immediately provide а substantial audience for Boudin's work, yet he persisted, while sustaining himself by working in а framing and stationery shop that often showed the work of local artists, including his, as well as those of the more famous figures who visited Normandy to paint. It was through this shop, which showed caricatures by the seventeen-year-old Monet, that these two artists met; and through this meeting the older artist set Monet on the path from which he would never veer. "Boudin, without hesitation, came up to me, complimented me in his gentle voice and said: 'I always look at your sketches with pleasure; they are amusing, clever, bright. You are gifted; one can see that at а glance. But l hope you are not going to stop there. It is all very well for а beginning, yet soon you will have had enough of caricaturing. Study, learn to see and to paint, drab; make landscapes. The sea and the sky, the animals, the people, and the trees are so beautiful, just as nature has made them, with their character, their genuineness, in the light, in the air, just as they are.” The Boy resisted Boudin's invitation to come work with him, but finally that summer he acquiesced and joined with Boudin: "My eyes were finally opened and I really understood nature; I learned at the same time to love it:" Monet’s greatest reciprocation to his mentor came years later when he was probably the means through which Boudin was asked to exhibit with the Impressionists in their first show, in 1874.

This love of nature, so effectively conveyed to the young Monet, sustained Boudin throughout his long and productive career. It is perhaps nowhere more obvious than in this small panel, which speaks so directly of а specific place and time, and of Boudin's pleasure in depicting it. The subject is the sea air itself, and how the sky, the sea, and the fashionably dressed crowd gathered on the beach are affected by it. And if there is irony in the foreground couple, attempting to carry on а conversation in the stiff breeze, it is gentle, so completely do they seem to partake in the artist's own stated pleasure at being there at that moment.




Institution The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Medium Oil on wood
Dimensions 31.8 x 29.2 cm













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