Le Havre, Bassin de la Barre
Oil on panel: 12.5(h) x 16(w) in / 31.8(h) x 40.6(w) cm
Signed and dated lower left: E Boudin 92; dated lower right: 7 Aout 92
Honfleur 1824 - 1898 Deauville
Le Havre, Bassin de la Barre
Signed and dated lower left: E. Boudin 92;
dated lower right: 7 Aout ‘92
Oil on panel: 12 ½ x 16 in / 31.8 x 40.6 cm
Frame size: 19 ½ x 22 in / 49.5 x 55.8 cm
Acquired from the artist in 1892 by Epstein, Paris
Antal Post de Bekessy (1943-2015)
Private collection, Europe
Paris, Galerie Michalon, Exposition Boudin, 1947
Robert and Manuel Schmit, Eugène Boudin, Deuxième Supplément, Paris 1993, p.71, no.4020, illus. (size wrongly given as 14 1/8 x 18 1/8 in)
Eugène Boudin painted the ports and beaches of the Normandy coast, exploring them with subtlety from the early 1860s to the mid-1890s. Boudin was born in Honfleur, the son of a sailor, so the sea was in his blood. After studying in Paris from 1847 to 1854, he returned each summer to his beloved Normandy, sketching and painting from nature. Winters were spent in his Paris studio preparing works for exhibition.
Boudin painted port scenes of great sensitivity, portraying the workaday maritime world he had experienced as a cabin boy. This painting depicts Le Havre, which by the Napoleonic period was the second largest port in France, after Nantes. Situated at the mouth of the Seine and from 1848 easily reached from the capital by rail, Le Havre was in effect the seaport of Paris, with a population of around 110,000 inhabitants in Boudin’s day.
The view depicts the Bassin de la Barre, the building of which was inaugurated in 1817 by the Duc d’Angoulême, Admiral of France and heir of the restored Bourbon monarch Charles X. It was part of the huge development of Le Havre’s docks in the first half of the nineteenth century, along with the shipbuilding firm of Augustin Normand. Le Havre imported Mediterranean wine and oil, northern European wheat and wood; by the early twentieth century it was the primary European port for coffee. American goods arrived on its quays and transatlantic steamers set off with emigrants to the West.
As so often, Boudin organizes his composition as a frieze set between water and sky. The masts and yards of the trading vessels mesh together in an intricate pattern that remains perfectly readable thanks to Boudin’s profound understanding of the structure of shipping. Using the light, broken brushwork typical of his works of the 1890s – inspired partly by his younger colleagues, the Impressionists – Boudin revels in the different shapes and textures of the houses along the quay. The palette of the painting is built around serene blues, greys, white and defining touches of black, enlivened by dabs of pure, bright colour such as the flecks of red on the bow of the nearest merchantman and the green of the crane to its left. Two rowing boats define the calm water of the bassin, adding a hint of human presence. Boudin was not much interested in the anecdotal and rarely, if ever, paints the docks teeming with workers. Above is a sky of scudding white clouds, imparting immense energy to the scene.
Note on the provenance
This painting was in the collection of Antal Post de Bekessy (1943-2015), grandson of Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), who built her family’s cereal firm into the corporate giant General Foods Company, making her the wealthiest woman in America in her day. Antal’s mother was Eleanor Post Close (1909-2006), a philanthropist and collector who divided her time between America and Paris. His father was the Austro-Hungarian writer and novelist Janos de Bekessy. Antal lived between America, France and Austria, working with many cultural institutions including the family museum, Hillwood in Washington, DC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Belvedere in Vienna. His own collections favoured nineteenth century Romanticism and twentieth century Modernism.
Honfleur 1824 - 1898 Deauville
Eugène Boudin was one of the most important precursors of the Impressionists, with his emphasis on working directly from nature and free, naturalistic brushwork. His ‘Crinolines’, depicting fashionable holidaymakers enjoying the beaches of northern France, ushered in a new genre, but he was also renowned for coastal and harbour scenes.
Born in Honfleur, Boudin was the son of a harbour pilot and bred to the sea, working as a cabin boy for his father in his boat Le Polichinelle. After a brief period of schooling, in 1835, he worked with a stationer and framer who displayed the work of artists, then set up his own stationery and framing business in 1844. Boudin’s clients included Thomas Couture, Eugène Isabey, Jean-François Millet and Constant Troyon, all of whom had an influence on his efforts to draw and paint. In 1847 Boudin went to Paris to copy Old Masters in the Louvre; he was particularly impressed by the seventeenth century Dutch school and by the Barbizon painters. In 1851 he was awarded a three-year painting scholarship by the city of Le Havre. He drew his subjects from the Normandy and Brittany coasts. In 1858 he met the young Claude Monet, who had grown up in Le Havre, and stressed to him the importance of making oil paintings directly from nature to capture the constantly changing beauties of the landscape. Boudin and Monet went on painting expeditions together, especially at the Saint-Siméon farm near Le Havre.
Boudin made his debut at the Salon in 1859, where his work was admired by Charles Baudelaire. He befriended Courbet, Daubigny and Corot, who heralded him as ‘the king of the skies’. Paris-based in the winter, Boudin spent his summers on painting tours around the coast of Le Havre, Honfleur and Trouville, inspired by the elegant society that flocked to the burgeoning seaside towns and by the busy maritime traffic. At Trouville in 1862 he met Johan Barthold Jongkind and, influenced by his boldness of technique, adopted freer brushwork and a brighter palette. The following year he married a Breton woman, Marie-Anne Guédès.
Boudin made several journeys to Belgium and The Netherlands, initially to shelter from the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). From 1892 to 1895 he visited Venice, making subtle, atmospheric and highly individual views. He also painted in the south of France at Antibes, Villefranche and Beaulieu, where he stayed in the 1890s for the health benefits of the mild winter climate. Boudin exhibited at the Salon from 1863 to 1897 and participated in the First Impressionist Exhibition in 1874.
From the 1870s Boudin enjoyed increasing financial security. In the 1880s he was taken up by the influential art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, the champion of the Impressionists. Durand-Ruel organised exhibitions of his pictures in 1883, 1889, 1890 and 1891. In 1892 Boudin was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. He died in Deauville in 1898.
Works by Eugène Boudin can be found in the many museums worldwide including The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The National Gallery, London; Musée d’Orsay, Paris; Musée du Louvre, Paris and The Hermitage, St Petersburg.