Oil on canvas
14 1/2 x 23 inches (36.8 x 58.4 cm)
Framed: 22 x 30 1/2 inches (56 x 77.5 cm)
Signed and inscribed lower right: E. Boudin Brest
Galerie Georges Petit, Paris
Hector Brame, Paris
Palais Galliera, Paris, June 20, 1968, lot 240
Sotheby’s, London, April 30, 1969, lot 18
Sotheby’s, New York, May 19, 1983, lot 307
Private Collection, USA
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Eugene Boudin en Bretagne, 1964, no. 17, Rennes, France; also reproduced in the Exhibition catalogue
Ruth L. Benjamin, Eugene Boudin, New York, 1937, illustrated pl. 127
Robert Schmit, Eugene Boudin, vol. I, Paris, 1973, no. 562, p. 209, illus.
Eugène Boudin is considered the earliest and first of the Impressionists, although his paintings did not share the brighter palette and looseness of brushwork of those who followed in his path. It was, in fact, his philosophy towards capturing the first impressions of nature that began the Impressionist movement. His most famous student, Claude Monet, once commented on his teacher, “I gave in at last, and Boudin, with untiring kindness, undertook my education. My eyes were finally opened and I really understood nature; I learned at the same time to love it.”
It was this love for nature that Boudin learned from his first instructor, the Barbizon painter Jean-François Millet, in 1845, and his love for nature would eventually lead the artist to his philosophy that the beauty of nature is only found in one’s first impression. Previous to his time with Millet, Boudin had owned a frame shop in Le Havre, which he gave up after his meeting with the great Barbizon painter. He would then travel to Paris where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts and made copies at the Louvre. However, he became displeased with his instructor’s encouragement towards pleasant genre pictures. He once made the comment that “the romantics have had their day. Henceforth we must seek the simple beauties of nature…nature truly seen in all its variety, its freshness.”
What is most charming in Boudin’s canvases is the controlled immediacy in his application of paint. Monet had a great respect for Boudin’s marines and once stated in a letter to his mentor after visiting the Paris Salon in 1859 that “marine paintings are completely missing” and thought that this is for Boudin “a road that should take you far.” Indeed it is Boudin’s images of the sea for which he is best known. In 1868, Boudin exhibited his marines alongside Courbet, Manet and Monet at the Exposition Maritime Internationale and was awarded a silver medal. Throughout his life, he remained faithful to plein-air painting, focusing on the play of light on water and on atmospheric cloud studies. The majority of his works are small landscapes of the harbors and beaches of the coast of Northern France.
Our painting depicts the port of Brest, in Finistère, Brittany. Brest is located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the peninsula, and is an important harbor with over 1000 years of history. Following the Franco-Prussian wars of 1870, there was a struggle to define the new national identity within France and this influenced Boudin’s artistic direction. France had lost territories to the German Empire altering its borders. French landscape painting was elevated to a status of ever greater significance; Boudin’s harbor scenes following the war were important not only for aesthetic achievement but also as visual representations of France’s geographical boundaries.
Our example is typical for the artist, rendering a striking marine scene with numerous merchant ships sailing on the water. It is painted in lovely grey hues with a touch of black and brown tones. The sky is filled with dramatic clouds, which cast an ethereal glow as hints of sun shine through them. Figures, presumably fishermen at work, emerge from the shadowy shoreline. Boudin’s attention to detail is apparent in the structure of the masts and his masterful use of light can be seen in the reflections of the ships on the water.