“I shall do other things, but I will always be the painter of beaches.” Eugene Boudin
Whether it is the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the French coast or Betterton, summer is beach season. Eugene Boudin (1824-1898) was born in Honfleur, a city known for its port and the nearby beach resorts of Trouville and Deauville. Boudin’s father ran the ferry service between Le Havre and Honfleur where Eugene worked as a child. Both father and son maintained their life-long love of the sea. The family moved to Le Havre in 1835, and Boudin’s father opened a framing and stationery shop to accommodate the many French artists who came to the seaside to paint. The railroad line between Paris and the towns on the Normandy coast opened in1847. Boudin was encouraged and inspired by the artists who came to the shop, and he stopped working in the shop to begin painting full-time in 1846. He won a scholarship to study in Paris in 1850. Through his new contacts with major Academy artists in Paris, Boudin met Baudelaire, poet and prominent art critic, who encouraged him to enter work in the 1859 Paris Salon. From that time until his death in 1898, Boudin would move back and forth between Paris and the coast, and he would paint and paint and paint.
Boudin’s career was based on his popular and enormous output of beach, sea, and port scenes. “Beach at Trouville” (1864) (10” x 26”) (VMFA) is typical of his work. Wealthy families from England and France are shown strolling leisurely along the wide sandy beach, parasols raised against the sun. Boudin depicts the ladies in the very fashionable crinoline skirts, some following the current trend to reveal a lovely underskirt drawn up by a system of hidden cords. A little girl in red and white and a dog race across the sand, while other figures sit comfortably. The beach is wide and inviting. At the water’s edge, cabanas are set up for bathers. Several flags blow in the breeze, and clouds are scudding with the wind. At the far right are of elegant hotels and homes with small grassy lawns and stairs leading down to the beach.
Having worked on the ferry as a child, Boudin also loved to paint of boats. “Jetty and Wharf at Trouville” (1863) (14” x 23’’) (NGA) combines both beach and boats. A steam boat and sail boats pull up to the docks to pick up and disembark passenger. The beach is again filled with a crowd of colorful, well-dressed visitors, and their dogs. As was Boudin’s practice, the sky and the scudding clouds fill the upper half of the painting. Boudin was a careful observer of the sky. He frequently chose different times of the day for his settings. In this daylight painting the scudding clouds are matched by the trail of smoke from the steam boat.
The Industrial Revolution of the Nineteenth Century brought into common use many new inventions such as the steam boat and steam locomotive. The invention of photography in 1839 also had an effect on the artis. Prior to 1841, oil paintings always were made in the studio, as paint was contained in pig bladders tied off with string. Once the bladder was pierced to let the paint flow, there was no way to close it securely. Pig bladders did not travel well. Watercolor painting and pencil sketches with accompanying notes, provided artists with the rudiments of any outdoor scene that could be painted indoors. John G. Rand, an American painter and inventor, patented the tin paint tube with screw cap in 1841. Thus, the slow beginning of oil painting outside. Boudin was the first French artist to paint “en plein air.” His canvases were small since painting outdoors required managing canvas, paint tubes and easel at the same time. Small canvases were necessary, but size did not hinder their popularity or purchase.
One of the first European artists actually to paint with oil outdoors was the Dutch artists Johan Barthold Jongkind (1819-1891). In the beginning, artists were reluctant to use this new product. Jongkind’s “Port of Honfleur” (1865) (20.5” X 32”) (oil on canvas) is an early example “en plein air.” Jongkind met Boudin in 1857, and he persuaded Boudin to try the new oil tubes and to paint outdoors. When the thirty-four-year-old Boudin met the eighteen-year-old Monet in 1857/58, he became his mentor and life-long friend. They painted together, and Boudin convinced Monet to try the new way and also introduced him to Jongkind. Monet described Jongkind as “a quiet man with such a talent that is beyond words,” giving him the credit due as a major influence on the Impressionists.
In the Twenty-First Century, Deauville is still a luxury seaside resort and known as the “queen of the Norman beaches.” It is the closest of the Cote Fleurie (Flowery Coast) resorts to Paris. As depicted in Boudin’s painting “Concert at the Casino of Deauville” (1865) (16.5” x 29”) (NGA) the resort catered to the wealthy international upper class. The women are dressed in their fashionable crinoline dresses with laces and ruffles. The outdoor concert has an over-flow crowd seated on wooden chairs. Some are lucky enough to be seated under the elaborately carved pavilion porch roof. The light peach windows and doors of the casino are complemented by the light blue Boudin used to depict the shadows under the roof, and to detail the carved capitals of the columns. Since this is the era of iron works creating the outdoor structures of train stations and bridges, it might be presumed the columns and capitals are also made of iron. Behind the beach setting, Boudin paints a rolling green hill scattered with houses and a church, recognizable by the steeple.
On June 28,1870, Claude Monet and his new bride Camille went to Trouville on their wedding trip. The Boudin’s joined them on August 12, 1870. “The Boardwalk at Trouville” (1870), is one of eleven paintings Monet created during the eight-week visit. Using all he had learned from Jongkind and Boudin, Monet paints the long sandy beach, the ocean waves, the bathers and fashionable strollers, the wooden boardwalk, and the elegant hotels and houses that compose the seaside retreat for the wealthy. Over all, the blue sky and white clouds, show Boudin’s influence. All Monet’s paintings were in oil and “en plein air.” Included in the eleven paintings were the elegiac beach scenes, but many were of Camille sitting on a chair enjoying the sun and sand. Monet told his biographer in 1920, “I have said it and I say it again: I owe everything to Boudin.”
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown six years ago, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL and Chesapeake College’s Institute for Adult Learning. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.