Thursday, February 28, 2008
Boudin, Le Roi Du Ciel
Now, with the last of winter tumbling into spring, the two seasons share a common space and the skies reflect the push and pull between them.
It's a time when I appreciate Eugene Boudin - the 19th century French painter to whom the master of the poetic landscape, Corot, proclaimed one day "You are king of the skies!".
Boudin,who was born in Honfleur in Normandy, spent most of his life painting in this vicinity, where the winds off the English Channel hit the seashore resorts of Deauville and Trouville. Here he loved to counterpoint his skies against the shoreline where the crinoline-clad ladies and top-hatted gentlemen, children and umbrellas, were all scattered and grouped across the horizon like so many colored stones or nestled villages.
Only on occasion would he venture abroad, notably to the emerald coast of Brittany where he met his wife, then in later years to Venice where he captured the calmer skies and watery reflections.
Though early in his career, he barely scraped out a living (at times facing starvation and contemplating suicide) he was already applauded by fellow artists and poets of renown. Baudelaire, as was his fashion, (at least with a chosen few) waxed rhapsodic after seeing a showing of Boudin's work.
"At the end, all these clouds in their fantastic and brilliant forms, these chaotic darknesses, these suspended and added the one to the others green and pink immensities, these gaping volcanoes, these firmaments of black or purple and crumpled, rolled or torn satin, these horizons in mourning or flowing of melted metal, all these depths, all this magnificence went up to my brain as a heady drink or as the eloquence of opium...."
I believe Baudelaire was referring, here, to some of Boudin's watercolors which were looser than the early oils. His oil renderings of the skies were not so much
spectacular in themselves but subtly suffused and enfolded the landscape beneath in the embrace of their delicate whims and dramatic moods.
Like Daubigny, Courbet, Corot, Whistler, and even to some extent Edouard Manet, Boudin was a godfather to the Impressionists; revered and even sharing exhibitions with them but always on the periphery of the movement. He never quite gave himself over to (and I'm personally relieved at this) the overriding absorption with light and color - "impressions" - that his early admirer Monet became noted for. Boudin retained a solidity of form and composition that was a remnant of an earlier time, despite the free flowing strokes that formed his skies and seas.