Eugène Boudin is traditionally presented in literature as a self-taught artist, inde-pendent of the Parisian art world whose works, painted out of doors in a sketchy, light-hued style, foreshadowed impres-sionism.1 Recent scholarship has tempered this interpretation of the artist, but it conserves his importance to contempor-aneous artistic concerns of modernity, the notion of "finish," the relationship between the French city and countryside, and the marketing of art works.2
Raised by parents who worked on steamers, Boudin grew up in Le Havre on the Normandy coast. At the age of twenty, he and an associate established their own framing and stationery shop where they regularly served artists. In 1847 Boudin went to Paris to study art and made contacts with artists such as Couture (q.v.), who helped him win a three-year study grant in 1850 from the municipal council of Le Havre, and Constant Troyon (1810-1865). But it was along the Normandy coast, not in Paris, where Boudin first met painters Ribot (q.v.) in 1851, Monet (q.v.) in 1858, and Courbet (q.v.) in 1859 and art critic Charles Baudelaire in 18593 and painted in a coarse realist style. Boudin spent each winter, roughly November to May, in Paris, working in his studio. He spent the summer season, lasting from two to five months, making pictures on the Normandy coast or in the Breton landscape. In 1860 he began to paint scenes of fashionable society at the beach resorts of Trouville (The Beach at Trouville, Minneapolis Institute of Arts) and Deauville. At first his work attracted little critical notice, but Baudelaire praised his pastels in a review of the 1859 Salon where Boudin made his debut.4 By 1869 Boudin and his art came to be identified with the Normandy coast.5 After 1870 Boudin increasingly turned away from beach resort subjects to focus on port and harbor views and fisherfolk scenes. In 1881 Boudin entered into a business relationship with the important Parisian art dealer Durand-Ruel, who provided him with a regular income for the rights to his entire production. When Durand-Ruel mounted a one-person exhibition of Boudin's works in 1883, the artist enjoyed financial and critical triumph. Boudin sold his first picture to the French state in 1886 (A Squall, Musée de Morlaix) and his second two years later (The Russian Corvette in the Eure Reservoir, Musée d'Agen). In 1892 he was decorated with the Legion of Honor. Extremely productive until the end of his life, Boudin left more than four thousand paintings and seven thousand works on paper, some of which he or his family bequeathed to the French nation and art museums of Le Havre and Honfleur. The reputation that Boudin quietly established is nowhere better evidenced than in the fact that the retro-spective exhibition of his work (January 1898) was held at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where Boudin never set foot and which had fought, and failed, to privilege history painting over landscape and genre.
1. By 1883 art critic Gustave Geffroy had already pronounced that Boudin "is, together with Corot and Jongkind, one of the immediate precursors of Impressionism. He shows us that impenetrable black does not exist and that air is transparent." Cited in trans. in Hamilton 1992, 42.
2. See John House, "Boudin's Modernity," in Hamilton 1992, 15-23.
3. Courbet first visited Le Havre in 1841, the year he moved to Paris from Ornans. He returned at the time of the 1858 Salon du Havre, to which he contributed, and again in 1859. He is reported to have bought some of Boudin's paintings. In 1865 the two painters socialized together and painted side by side at Trouville.
4. The artist exhibited no pastels in the Salon, but Baudelaire might have seen them in the artist's studio or elsewhere.
5. Jules Castagnary, Salon de 1869, cited in trans. in Hamilton 1992, 59.