RICHMOND, VA - The first American exhibition in 30 years to be devoted exclusively to the work of 19th-century French artist Eugène Boudin is on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Boudin is an artist who has often been overlooked in the history of Impressionism, yet he remains one of the most charming and accessible painters of that generation," says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges.
The exhibition, which will remain on view through Jan. 27, 2008, is part of "Celebrating Paul Mellon," VMFA's year-long commemoration of the centenary of benefactor Paul Mellon's birth. Boudin, who lived from 1824 to 1898, was one of Mellon's favorite French painters, Nyerges says.
"The First Impressionist," which is drawn from the collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, "will bring Boudin's work to a new audience," he says. Together the National Gallery and VMFA have the largest and most distinguished array of Boudin's works in America, largely because of gifts from Mr. and Mrs. Mellon and also - in the case of the National Gallery - from Mellon's sister, Ailsa Mellon Bruce.
A selection of the National Gallery's works was exhibited in Washington, D.C., this summer as "Eugène Boudin at the National Gallery of Art." Boudin is chiefly remembered as a mentor to the young Claude Monet (1840-1926), who once said "I owe everything to Boudin."
The 49 works in the exhibition include small-scale paintings of tourists at fashionable Normandy resorts, works with which Boudin made his reputation. They range from oil sketches to highly finished exhibition pictures. Their fresh palette and accuracy of detail earned the admiration of contemporary artists such as Camille Corot (1796-1875), Edouard Manet (1832-83) and Gustave Courbet (1819-77), in addition to Monet, who shared Boudin's practice of working outdoors. Corot once called Boudin "the king of the skies."
Dr. Mitchell Merling, VMFA's Paul Mellon Curator and head of the department of European art, says Boudin's work displays aesthetic and formal qualities that Mellon found congenial - among them spontaneity, freshness of observation and intimacy of scale.
Merling is one of the exhibition's two curators. The other is Florence E. Coman, assistant curator of French paintings at the National Gallery.
Boudin, the son of a sailor, ran a stationery and picture-framing business in Le Havre on the French coast from 1844 to 1849. Among his business's clients was the artist François Millet (1814-75), who encouraged him to paint. Boudin was a strong advocate of painting from nature and greatly influenced the Impressionists who followed him, Merling says.
Exhibition visitors will see the hoopskirts, parasols and crinolines of fashionable ladies on beaches and promenades, under sun or threatening clouds, painted with charm, yet also with a degree of ironic detachment, Merling says. "Spontaneous effects of light and air animate his compositions, giving them an immediate appeal. Boudin's seaside watercolors portraying fashionable vacations at the beach show an almost journalistic sensibility that is more usually associated with urban life."
In addition to Boudin's paintings and drawings of vacationers, the exhibition includes images of the inhabitants of Normandy and Brittany pursuing their daily activities - as fishermen and sailors and aboard commercial vessels. These works range from a set of six graphite drawings from a single sketchbook (1858) to two large, highly finished paintings, "Entrance to the Harbor, Le Havre" (1883) and "Ships and Sailing Boats Leaving Le Havre" (1887), that Boudin submitted to Paris's juried Salon in search of official recognition.
"The First Impressionist: Eugène Boudin" was organized by the National Gallery of Art and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts at : vmfa.museum