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26 June, 2013
Charles-François Daubigny
It's strange how we develop "notions" regarding various things that may or may not have any basis in reality. For instance, in art, we commonly think the Impressionists "invented" the divided brush stroke, the sketchy, unfinished look of their paintings, and even the act of painting outside "en plein air" as it's called. Actually none of these things are true. One only has to look at the work of Charles-François Daubigny (pronounced DOE-bin-YEE), his date of birth (1817), and the dates of some of his early landscape paintings to realise otherwise. He's commonly regarded as a Barbizon painter, and while it's true that he, Rousseau, and others once frequented this tiny village on the edge of the Fountainbleu Forrest to paint, actually (especially after 1850), he spent very little time there. And while, sometimes he did work in his studio, painting his loosely handled landscape masterpieces, he was one of the first French artists to advertise the joys of painting outside. And as for his painting style, his work was criticised as early as 1852 by the art columnist, Grunn: "Is Monsieur Daubigny afraid of ruining his work by finishing it?"

Daubigny came from a whole family of landscape painters. His father, Edme, and his Uncle Pierre were both accomplished landscapists, though both work in a traditional, highly conservative style. And Daubigny passed on his style, his love of art, and the twilight riverscape, to his own son, Karl Pierre, who continued his father's painting legacy until his death in 1886. Charles- François ' training in art came largely from his family as well, though he had a smattering of formalistic input from the academician Paul Delaroche, and a yearlong painting sojourn to Italy. Surprisingly though, given his style, Daubigny had a fair amount of success in entering Salon Shows through most of the 1840s. He even managed to win a Salon prize in 1848. Though his family was well-to-do and he seems to have lived much of his life on a stipend from his father, by the 1850s, he was making a respectable living as an etcher and illustrator even as his paintings began to win popular acceptance and respectable prices in spite of their style being a good deal "fresher," as we might say today, than was common at the time.

But Daubigny's real impact, aside from spending every spare franc he could muster in buying the art of his Impressionist friends, came in 1857 when he was awarded the Legion of Honour leading to his election to the Salon jury itself in 1865 and again in 1868. It was from this position of some influence that he was able to play a role in shining a public light on the younger generation of plein air daubers such as Monet, Pissarro, and Boudin, even Cézanne, helping them to get their work into salon exhibitions. He was also responsible for introducing several of the Impressionists to his agent, Paul Durand-Ruel, who later helped promote their careers. But despite dabbling in the "art politics" of the much-hated salon jury system, Daubigny was first and foremost a landscape painter, travelling all over France and neighbouring countries, setting up his easel on some of the most picturesque, and then unspoiled, riverbanks in the country. He even acquired a houseboat allowing him to paint his beloved rivers while on the river. (Monet later got the idea for his own such floating platform from Daubigny.)

Daubigny is important, not so much for his golden, watery landscapes themselves, though they are exquisitely beautiful, but for being another of what I term "transitional" artists--painters who effectively served as a bridge from one dominant style (Academicism in this case) to another (as in here, Impressionism). Daubigny didn't "invent" Impressionism, but late in life one could easily say he became one. But the fact that his style presaged theirs by some twenty or thirty years, gained acceptance some years earlier than did Impressionism; and that he was, in fact, instrumental in bringing about the Impressionist era shortly before his death in 1878; along with his early financial support of these hapless young artists, certainly carves a deep niche for both them and himself in the art history "wall of fame."

Contributed by Lane, Jim
3 June 2000

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