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Charles-François Daubigny
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A superb landscape painter, Charles-François Daubigny’s “unfinished” paintings formed a bridge in French art from the Barbizon School to the Impressionists, and his etchings were as strong as his paintings. Born into a family of artists, including his father Edme-François Daubigny (1789-1843), uncle, sister, aunt and son Karl Daubigny (1846-1886), Daubigny was first trained by his father, and later worked in the restoration studios of the Louvre. In 1835 he studied with the academic painter Pierre Asthasie Théodore Sentiès (1801-?). In 1836 he traveled to Italy with his friend Henri Mignan. Returning to Paris, Daubigny earned money by illustrating books and became interested in etching. His first Salon entry, in 1838, was an etched Vue de Notre-Dame de Paris et de I’lle St-Louis (Henriet 4). He next exhibited at the Salon in 1840, and continued to do so until 1877. Planning to enter the 1841 competition for the Prix du Rome at the École des Beaux Arts, in 1840 he began working under the history painter Paul Delaroche1797-1856). Daubigny entered the competition and passed the first two tests, but thereafter failed to qualify due to a careless oversight. During the 1840’s he earned his living through commercial illustration and printmaking, including reproductions of works of old masters such as Claude Lorraine (1604-1682) and Jacob van Ruisdael (1628 or 1629-1682), although he continued to exhibit paintings at the Salons. He also traveled to many parts of France, and particularly in the Forest of Fontainebleau, which provided inspiration for several paintings he submitted to the Salons. In 1848, he received an inheritance, which eased his financial concerns, and won his first prize at the Salon. Daubigny’s work is characterized by its lack of a smooth, polished finish so prized by academic artists and most critics of the time. A critic writing in the Moniteur Universel on 20 June, 1852 praised Daubigny’s landscapes for their “intimate feeling for nature” but criticized them as “rough sketches”, asking “Is M. Daubigny afraid of ruining his work by finishing it?” Later, he would be praised by Odilon Redon (1840-1916) for the same qualities, as a “painter of a moment, of an impression” (both quoted in Fidell-Beaufort & Bailly-Herzberg, pp. 45 and 60). Daubigny’s career is notable for his travel around France and Switzerland, painting landscapes scenes. He met Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) on such a trip in 1852, and developed a long friendship. Daubigny was particularly attracted to the landscape scenes along the Seine and Oise Rivers, and in 1857 acquired a boat, named “Le Botin” (the “little box”), with a small cabin he used as a studio. Le Botin allowed him to travel the rivers, painting and sketching. His paintings made “en plein air” were significant influences on many of the Impressionists. In 1859, Daubigny was made a member of the Legion of Honor, won a first class medal at the Salon and received two commissions from the State. By this time he was a popular painter, with collectors seeking out his works. In 1860 he purchased a plot of land in Auvers-sur-Oise, on which he built a house and a studio, assisted by Corot. He continued making etchings and cliché verre prints. In 1862, publisher and art dealer Alfred Cadart (1828-1875) founded the Société des Aqua- fortistes (The Society of Etchers), dedicated to publishing original etchings. Daubigny was one of the most enthusiastic participants and contributed three etchings (all landscapes with livestock) to the five sets of sixty etchings each Cadart published from 1862 through 1867. Daubigny submitted the first two to the 1865 Salon. Cadart became Daubigny’s exclusive print publisher, as well as selling a portion of his painted works. Appointed one of the jurors of the 1866 Salon, Daubigny helped to admit a painting by Camille Pissarro (1831-1903) but was unable to get paintings by Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) admitted. He continued to spend summers traveling to a variety of locations in France as well as sailing on Le Botin, and traveled to London in 1865 and 1866 and Spain in 1869. As a juror for the 1870 Salon, he resigned over the refusal to admit a painting by Claude Monet (1840-1926). He took his family to London in 1870 to avoid the Franco-Prussian War, returning in 1871. From 1872, Daubigny suffered from asthma and bronchitis, as well as gout. He continued to travel on his boat and paint, but his health worsened over the next several years, and he died after returning to Paris in early 1878. He was honored posthumously with a retrospective of nine of his recent paintings at the 1878 Exposition Universelle. (TNB 2/2010) Selected bibliography: Fidell-Beaufort, Madeleine and Janine Bailly-Herzberg. Daubigny: La Vie et l’oeuvre (Paris: Geoffroy-Dechaume, 1975). Melot, Michel; Robert Erich Wolf (trans.). Graphic Art of the Pre-Impressionists. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1981.