Making an impression
Caroline Bugler visits the first major exhibition on ‘the father of Impressionism’ and is intrigued to see how two younger artists responded to his work
If you’d been strolling along the banks of the River Oise in 1859, you might have come across a strange vessel bobbing on the calm waters—a converted barge with a hut perched on top —and perhaps even glimpsed an artist sketching at the open end. This was Charles françois Daubigny’s floating studio, his botin. Not content with sitting on the riverbank, he immersed himself in his motif in order to paint from mid-stream and dispense with the earthy foreground.
Daubigny’s river scenes, with their reflections, dappled light and scudding clouds, his coastal panoramas and his scenes of peaceful rustic activity, added up to a charming if slightly nostalgic evocation of a rural france. They proved popular in smart Parisian drawing rooms and he enjoyed considerable commercial success from the 1850s until his death in 1878.
But it was not just his bourgeois clients who appreciated his art: a younger generation of Impressionist artists found great appeal in his dedication to landscape, his unassuming subject matter and close observation of weather effects. He, in turn, became one of their main champions. This exhibition of more than 100 pictures, the first major international show of Daubigny’s work, looks at its importance to just two younger painters—monet and van Gogh —who each responded in different ways.
The link with Impressionism might not seem immediately obvious in Daubigny’s early forest and seascapes, which are depicted in varying shades of browns and greens, but, in one canvas of 1843, Daubigny shows himself trudging off into the depths of the forest of fontainebleau with his painting equipment. There could hardly be a clearer statement about the practice of painting in the open air that was later to be so enthusiastically embraced by the Impressionists.
As you move from room to room, you also begin to understand how Daubigny’s work developed throughout his career, oscillating between highly finished canvases and simpler sketches. The older artist clearly learned something
Compare and contrast: Daubigny’s Fields in the Month of June (1874, above) and Field with Poppies (1890, below) by van Gogh