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Sunday ARTday: Eugène Boudin

The Beach near Trouville by Eugène Boudin

The French painter Eugène-Louis Boudin (1824-1898) was born in Honfleur as the son of a ship’s captain. As a young boy, he worked on a steamboat that ran between Le Havre and Honfleur. But after he fell overboard and almost drown, his mother decided to send him to school. In 1835 his father abandoned seafaring and opened a store for stationery and frames in La Havre. Having opened up his own frame shop, the young Boudin came in contact with the artists Jean-François Millet and Jean-Baptist Isabey, who encouraged his early artistic pursuits. At the age of 22, Boudin shuttered his shop and started painting full-time.

The majority of Boudin’s works are small landscapes of the harbors and beaches of the coast of northern France, informed by a keen eye for social detail. Up to the 19th century, the beach was a place where fishermen used to go to work and not a place to spend your spare time. However, from the mid-1800s, European elites began touting the curative qualities of fresh air, exercise and sea bathing. The Normandy coast became particular popular among the French upper classes who wanted to escape Paris, and the artists followed, to paint their portraits, do seascapes and make some money under the sunny-cloudy Norman skies.

The Beach near Trouville (c. 1865) is one of Boudin’s many paintings that he made in Trouville, – a popular resort for Parisians escaping the summer heat. We see a group of fancily dressed men and women (long skirts, flowery hats, bowlers, suits, vests) sitting and strolling on the sand, holding parasols against the sun. Instead of trying to individualize the silhouettes, the artist, in a panoramic vision, captures the crowd of the seaside, which forms a frieze occupying the median space of the coastline, between beach and sky. The absence of precise contours of the characters, their way of blending into the site, contribute to evoking this social body as a whole. Boudin expresses here the very essence of modern life. The light treatment of the brushstroke, which matches the variations in light and the movement of the clouds, heralds the research of the impressionists.

Eugène Boudin, The Beach near Trouville, c. 1865. Oil on canvas, 35.7 x 57.7 cm. Artizon Museum

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