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EUGENE BOUDIN (1824-1898)

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Originally appearing in Volume V04, Page 314 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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EUGENE BOUDIN (1824-1898), French painter of the paysage de mer, was the son of a pilot. Born at Honfleur he was cabin-boy for a while on board the rickety steamer that plied between Havre and Honfleur across the estuary of the Seine. But before old age came on him, Boudin's father abandoned seafaring, and the son gave it up too, having of course no real vocation for it, though he preserved to his last days much of a sailor's character,—frankness, accessibility, open-heartedness. Boudin the elder now established himself as stationer and frame-maker; this time in the greater seaport town of Havre; and Eugene helped in the little business, and, in stolen hours, produced certain drawings. That was a time at which the romantic out-lines of the Norman coast engaged Isabey, and the green wide valleys of the inland country engaged Troyon; and Troyon and Isabey, and Millet too, came to the shop at Havre. Young Boudin found his desire to be a painter stimulated by their influence; his work made a certain progress, and the interest taken in the young man resulted in his being granted for a short term of years by the town of his adoption a pension, that he might study painting. He studied partly in Paris; but whatever individuality he possessed in those years was hidden and covered, rather than disclosed. An instance of tiresome, elaborate labour—good enough, no doubt, as groundwork, and not out of keeping with what at least was the popular taste of that day—is his " Pardon of Sainte Anne de la Palud," a Breton scene, of 1858, in which he introduced the young Breton woman who was immediately to become his wife. This conscientious and unmoving picture hangs in the museum of Havre, along with a hundred later, fresher, thoroughly individual studies and sketches, the gift of Boudin's brother, Louis Boudin, after the painter's death. Re-established at Honfleur, Boudin was married and poor. But his work gained character and added, to merely academic correctness, character and charm. He was beginning to be himself by 1864 or 1865—that was the first of such periods of his as may be accounted good—and, though not at that time so fully a master of transient effects of weather as he became later, he began then to paint with a success genuinely artistic the scenes of the harbour and the estuary, which no longer lost vivacity by deliberate and too obvious completeness. The war of 1870–71 found Boudin impecunious but great, for then there had well begun the series of freshly and vigorously conceived canvases and panels, which record the impressions of a precursor of the Impressionists in presence of the Channel waters, and of those autumn skies, or skies of summer, now radiant, now uncertain, which hung over the small ports and the rocky or chalk-cliff coasts, over the watering-places, Trouville, Dieppe, and over those larger harbours, with port and avant-port and bassin, of Dunkirk, of Havre. In the war time, Boudin was in Brittany and then in the Low Countries. About 18751876 he was at Rotterdam and Bordeaux. That great bird's-eye vision of Bordeaux which is in the Luxembourg dates from these years, and in these years he was at Rotterdam, the companion of Jongkind, with whom he had so much in common, but whose work, like his, free and fearless and unconventional, can never be said with accuracy to have seriously influenced his own. Doing excellent things continually through all the 'seventies, when he was in late middle age—gaining scope in colour, having now so many notes—faithful no longer wholly to his amazing range of subtle greys, now blithe and silvery, now nobly deep—sending to the Salon great canvases, and to the few enlightened people who would buy them of him the toile or panel of most moderate size on which he best of all ex-pressed himself—Boudin was yet not acceptable to the public or to the fashionable dealer. The late 'eighties had to come and Boudin to be elderly before there was a sale for his work at any prices that were in the least substantial. Broadly speaking his work in those very 'eighties was not so good as the labour, essentially delicate and fresh and just, of some years earlier, nor had it always the attractiveness of the impulsive deliverances of some years later, when the inspired sketch was the thing that he generally stopped at. Old age found him strong and receptive. Only in the very last year of his life was there perceptible a positive deterioration. Not very long before it, Boudin, in a visit to Venice, had produced impressions of Venice for which much more was to be said than that they were not Ziem's. And the deep colouring of the South, on days when the sunshine blazes least, had been caught by him and presented nobly at Antibes and Villefranche. At last, resorting to the south again as a refuge from ill-health, and recognizing soon that the relief it could give him was almost spent, he resolved that it should not be for him, in the words of Maurice Barres, a " tombe,fleurie," and he returned, hastily, weak and sinking, to his home at Deauville, that he might at least die within sight of Channel waters and under Channel skies. As a " marine painter "—more properly as a painter of subjects in which water must have some part, and as curiously expert in the rendering of all that goes upon the sea, and as the painter too of the green banks of tidal rivers and of the long-stretched beach, with crinolined Parisienne noted as ably as the sailor-folk—Boudin stands alone. Beside him others are apt to seem rather theatrical—or if they do not romance they appear, perhaps, to chronicle dully. The pastels of Boudin—summary and economic even in the 'sixties, at a time when his painted work was less free—obtained the splendid eulogy of Baudelaire, and it was no other than Corot who, before his pictures, said to him: " You are the master of the sky." See also Gustave Cahen, Eugene Boudin (Paris, 1899) ; Arsene Alexandre, Essais; Frederick Wedmore, Whistler and Others (1906). (F. WE.)
End of Article: EUGENE BOUDIN (1824-1898)
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