Saturday, 13 September 2014


“Enjoyment of the landscape is a thrill.” - David Hockney

Charles-François Daubigny (15 February 1817 – 19 February 1878) was one of the painters of the Barbizon school, and is considered an important precursor of Impressionism. Daubigny was born in Paris, into a family of painters and was taught the art by his father Edmond François Daubigny, and his uncle, miniaturist Pierre Daubigny. Initially Daubigny painted in a traditional style, but this changed after 1843 when he settled in Barbizon, which provided him with more opportunity to work outside in the open air.

Even more important to his change in style was his meeting with Camille Corot in 1852 in Optevoz (Isère). On Daubigny’s famous boat ‘Botin’, which he had turned into a studio, he painted along the rivers Seine and Oise, often in the region around Auvers. From 1852 onward he came under the influence of Gustave Courbet. In 1866 Daubigny visited England, eventually returning because of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870. In London he met Claude Monet, and together they left for the Netherlands. Back in Auvers, he met Paul Cézanne, another important Impressionist. It is assumed that these younger painters were influenced by Daubigny.

Daubigny’s finest pictures were painted between 1864 and 1874, and these for the most part consist of carefully completed landscapes with trees, river and a few ducks. It has been said that when Daubigny liked his pictures he added another duck or two, so that the number of ducks often indicates greater or less artistic quality in his pictures.  One of his sayings was, “The best pictures do not sell”, as he frequently found his finest achievements little understood.

Daubigny is chiefly preferred for his riverside pictures, of which he painted a great number, but although there are two large landscapes by Daubigny in the Louvre, neither is a river view. They are for that reason not so typical as many of his smaller Oise and Seine pictures. His most ambitious canvases are ‘Springtime’ (1857), in the Louvre; ‘Borde de la Cure, Morvan’ (1864); ‘Villerville sur Mer’ (1864); ‘Moonlight’ (1865); ‘Auvers-sur-Oise’ (1868); and ‘Return of the Flock’ (1878).

He was named by the French government as an Officer of the Legion of Honor. Daubigny died in Paris. His remains are interred at Cimetière du Père-Lachaise (division 24). His followers and pupils included his son Karl (who sometimes painted so well that his works are occasionally mistaken for those of his father), Achille Oudinot, Hippolyte Camille Delpy, Albert Charpin and Pierre Emmanuel Damoye.

The painting above ‘Washerwomen on the Banks of the Oise’ of 1874 is a work typical of his style: A river view with abundant verdant vegetation, a sky full of interest and the occasional figure that counterbalances the essentially natural view of the landscape. The brushstrokes are bold and the colours fresh, although somewhat subdued. One can see that this type of “plein air” painting would resonate with the new artists of the impressionist school.

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