There is an old saying that says, "Some are born to greatness, the rest of us have to work at it." One might think that being born the son of an artist into a family with numerous other artists would put you in the first category. For Charles-François Daubigny, (pronounced DOE-bin-yee) it wasn't quite that easy. Born in Paris in 1817, the son of Edouard François Daubigny, young Charles realised at an early age he was destined to become an artist, if not for greatness. His father was a working artist, though by no means well known or a very successful one. The same was true for several of Charles' cousins as well. Though not impoverished, Daubigny grew up with a very strict understanding of ethics and money. When he was twelve, his mother died and the boy found himself plying the family trade at a very young age, doing what he could to earn money in support of his family. Besides assisting his father and various odd jobs, Daubigny took to painting fans and bonbon boxes to earn a small return from his talent. It was good training especially in creating interesting, innovative artistic compositions.
By the age of 17, Daubigny and a friend, who was also a painter, had managed to save about three hundred dollars for a trip to Italy, then considered the ultimate educational experience for any would-be artist. With his friend, Mignon, and all their worldly possessions packed up on their backs, the two painters set out (on foot, no less) for Italy where they studied for a year in Rome, Florence, and Naples (and no doubt wrote the book on seeing Italy for less than a dollar a day). A year later, back in Paris, broke, the trip had nonetheless changed their lives. Mignon realised he was not cut out to be a painter while Daubigny found a job as an assistant conservator for the king's art collection. It was, however, a job he was not happy at, and after months of quarrelling with his boss, he was fired.
But rather than being distressed at his dismissal, Daubigny felt free. Using the keen feeling for pigments, colours, and techniques he'd gained in studying the king's collection, and the great art of Italy, Daubigny applied himself to painting. In 1838, he had accepted in the Salon competition a painting of the Chancel End of Notre Dame though it attracted little attention. However the next year, in spite of his lack of academic training, his St. Jerome in the Desert was a serious contender for the Prix de Rome. But having lost out to what he considered an inferior, academic painter, Daubigny switched to landscapes, finding refreshing solitude in joining the so-called Barbizon painters who liked to work outdoors in and around that small town on the edge of the Fountainbleu Forrest. He eventually settled in another small town not far from Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise where he lived and painted and was a never-ending source of support and inspiration for the next generation of out-of-doors painters--the Impressionists.
contributed by Lane, Jim
16 August 1999