Art review: Eugène Boudin, Jacquemart-André Museum, Paris
Monday 24 June 2013
His younger friend Monet wrote that he owed "everything" to Eugène Boudin, Degas collected his paintings and Corot called him the "king of skies". But Boudin has been overshadowed by his more-famous contemporaries for too long. Now he is being shown the appreciation he deserves with a stunning exhibition in Paris that does justice to a master of the sea, sky and light.
If you need an excuse to go to Paris, this is it. Don't miss it. Seascapes and beach scenes bathed in radiant light are among around the 60 or so works on display at the Musée Jacquemart-André, a grand 19th-century mansion on Boulevard Haussmann.
Astonishingly, it is his first retrospective in the French capital since 1899, and many of the paintings have not been shown on this side of the Atlantic since the 19th century.
Although Boudin is represented in numerous public collections, including the UK, many of the paintings here are from private collections and museums worldwide.
Exhibits include two paintings of St Catherine's bell-tower in Honfleur. One, from the University of Michigan Museum, was always known to be a Boudin. The other, from the Honfleur Museum in Normandy, was assumed to be a Monet because it was found in the impressionist's studio and appeared to bear his signature.
But recent research confirms that both are by Boudin. It seems that Monet's son had innocently signed the second picture when donating it to the nation in 1964, apparently assuming it to be one of his father's. But whereas Boudin often used wood, Monet very rarely did, and in its style and depiction of light, it is far more characteristic of Boudin than Monet. So, not only has poor Boudin been underappreciated, but someone else was given the credit for his mastery.
Boudin (1824-98) was one of the first artists to take his easel outside the studio to paint directly from nature. These paintings capture his brilliance in portraying atmospheric effects and light. He was the first, in 1862, to paint a beach scene and had a major impact on the impressionists who followed. He often painted several variations of the same subject at different times of day, an approach that was to influence Monet (it was Boudin who encouraged Monet's artistic ambitions).
All manner of people fell under Boudin's gaze; he observed fishermen and washerwomen at work by the water's edge, as well as fashionable society on holiday, engrossed in conversation, strolling leisurely, or clinging to parasols and bonnets in blustery winds. But in all of them, the figures are dwarfed by nature, as Boudin depicted the immensity of the skies, the shifting mists and ever-moving clouds.
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