Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Out and About (Events/Exhibits): Eugène Boudin

Detail - Plage aux
environs de Deauville
Making the most of a day when it practically didn’t rain here in Paris, I dropped by the Jacquemart-André mansion-cum-museum for a peek at an exhibit of one of my favorite artists: Eugène Boudin.
      Maybe it’s because of all those years sailing on my father’s tiny sailboat, first as a toddler sitting on the floorboards wearing a tiny life preserver, then as a teen perched sun-worshiper style on the front deck, such as it was.  But drawings of water in motion - seas and oceans especially - or of beaches stretching to the horizon, where they meet an endless sky... that, to me, is a piece of art that I can stare at all day.
     And as Monet himself said, no one could capture a sky like Boudin, “le maître du ciel”, the king of the sky.  “I owe everything to Boudin,” Monet admitted, “including my own success.”  (Je dois tout à Boudin et je lui suis reconnaissant de ma réussite.)

Eugène Boudin was born in the French port town of Honfleur in 1824, and nothing pre-ordained him to be an artist.  His father was a fisherman and he worked for a printer and a paper merchant, then opened his own shop selling paper and frames.  Which is how he came to frequent the art world.  Then at 22, he began to draw, a ripe old age to start a career as an artist.  Over the years he executed more than 3,000 works in all, many of them immediately snapped up by American connoisseurs, disappearing across the ocean where they remained hidden from a discerning French art world.  After a lifetime of seascapes, Boudin died in 1898... in Deauville, just up the Normandy coast from his birthplace.
Antibes, les fortifications
     It was the coast between these two seaside towns that he painted the most, even though he traveled and painted the docks in Bordeaux, Rotterdam and Anvers, as well as sea views of Antibes, Beaulieu and Villefranche on the Mediterranean, and also Venice on the Adriatic.

Clocher de Ste Catherine - UMMA collection
This is the first solo Paris show of Boudin’s works since 1899.  It groups over 60 canvases, drawings and sketches, including one from the University of Michigan Museum of Art, a sketchy rendering in oils of Ste. Catherine Church in Honfleur.  The exhibit places it next to another more “finished” painting of the same church, which experts had thought was a Monet.  Because of this show, they’ve had to revise their opinion and now attribute both to Boudin.  It’s easy to see why one would make that mistake.  Both artists painted with liquid light just pouring out of their oils and illuminating sky and water.  Both liked to do series of the same view in different types of weather or at different times of the day.
Pêcheuses sur la plage de Berck
     But for some reason, Monet eclipsed him, maybe because of Boudin’s lack of people in his works.  You see them, but from a great distance, as in Marée montante à Deauville.  Their proportions are perfectly realistic, but the details remain vague, as if you’re just too far away to make them out.  When he does “do” people, you often see them from the back, as in Plage aux environs de Deauville or Concert au casino de Deauville, where he replaces the luminosity of the absent sea by the shimmering colors of the ladies’ dresses.  The light is always there, always present.

Marée montante à Deauville
   And it’s for that in particular that the Impressionists followed his lead.  Every single one of the famous Impressionist artists owned a Boudin, including Degas and Monet.  He led them out of the studio and back into nature, as did Corot before him.  He led the way out of the period of romanticism and into the light, in all senses of the word.  And he focused on the ephemeral, calling his works “snapshots” (instantéités), images of an instant in time.  
     Those instants are now transfixed for all eternity.  All you have to do is drop by the exhibit and you’ll see for yourself.
La Meuse à Rotterdam

Until July 22, 2013

Concert au casino de Deauville
Musée Jacquemart-André

158 bd Haussmann
Paris 8è
Metro:  Miromesnil

Daily 10 am - 6 pm, Mon & Sat until 9 pm

Entrance: 11 € & 9.50 €
Free to children under 7

1 comment:

  1. You at the museum and I at the 'Opera' - the arts enrich our lives!