You are the master of the sky." -Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
This tranquil landscape painting, depicting cows grazing near water's edge, is the work of master French Impressionist Eugène Louis Boudin. One of the first French landscape painters to paint outdoors, Boudin is now recognized as the most original French marine painter of the 19th century. He achieved a mastery of his specialty equal to, if not surpassing, that of his English predecessors Constable, Bonington, and Turner, and the accomplishments of France's own Barbizon landscapists. Known especially for his depictions of ships on quiet waterways and bathers at the beach, Boudin painted only a handful of scenes focusing on farm animals, and even fewer of cows in pasture.
Born into a seafaring family near the town of Honfleur, Normandy, Boudin worked as cabin boy onboard the steamer that sailed between Havre and Honfleur across the estuary of the Seine. In 1835, his family moved to Le Havre, where his father established himself as a stationer and frame-maker. Boudin began work the next year as an assistant to his father shortly before opening his own small shop. There he came into contact with artists working in the area and exhibited in his shop the paintings of Constant Troyon and Jean-François Millet, who, along with Jean-Baptiste Isabey and Thomas Couture, encouraged young Boudin to follow an artistic career. At the age of 22, he abandoned the world of commerce and journeyed to Paris to begin painting exclusively. In 1850, he earned a scholarship that enabled him to take permanent residence in Paris, although he often traveled to paint in Normandy and, from 1855, made regular trips to Brittany.
Seventeeth-century Dutch masters profoundly influenced Boudin, and upon meeting the Dutch painter Johan Jongkind (who already made his mark in French artistic circles), he was advised by his new friend to paint outdoors "en plein air." Although often described as "the painter of beaches," the beach itself, in many of his paintings, only occupies a portion of the canvas. It is the large, luminous sky that predominates his work. Boudin studied nature directly on the Normandy coast at the fashionable resorts of Deauville and Trouville. His seascapes and beach scenes were painted at many different times of the year and in a variety of changing weather conditions. Boudin's overriding concern was light, and in his dabs of pure color and loose and delicate brushwork, he prefigured Impressionism, marking the link between Corot and the Impressionists.
A mentor to acclaimed French Impressionists, Boudin profoundly affected and influenced the works of celebrated artists such as Renoir, Monet and Corot. His passion for movement and his subject matter further inspired artisans of all mediums, including Baudelaire, Watteau and Courbet. In 1857, Boudin met Claude Monet, who spent several months working with him in and out of his studio. Responsible for introducing Monet to this method of painting outdoors, Monet returned the compliment by painting the beach at Trouville several years later. The two remained lifelong friends and Monet later paid tribute to Boudin's early influence. Indicative of the esteem in which he was held by the Impressionists, Boudin joined Monet and his young friends in the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874, but never considered himself a radical or innovator.
Boudin's growing reputation enabled him to travel extensively in the 1870s. He visited Belgium, the Netherlands, and southern France, and from 1892 to 1895, made regular trips to Venice. He continued to exhibit at the Paris Salon, receiving a third place medal in 1881 and a gold medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle. In 1892, Boudin was made a knight of the Légion d'honneur, a somewhat tardy recognition of his talents and influence on the art of his contemporaries.