Ambling through a hall of Eugène Boudin paintings feels almost like intruding on a storybook.
The smartly dressed men and women who populate the art are characters of wistful days gone by,carrying in their delicate arms not only parasols and billowing skirts but also the youthful joy of being on vacation.
“Eugène Boudin at the National Gallery of Art” brings together more than 40 of Boudin's paintings,watercolors and sketches as the opening exhibit celebrating the centenary of Paul Mellon's birth.
The gallery's long-time patron,who died in 1999,oversaw the completion of the museum when his father,Andrew Mellon,died in 1937. He was elected to its board of trustees in 1938 and remained there for more than six decades.
Among the 1,027 works of art donated to the gallery by Paul Mellon and his wife,Bunny,is a significant portion of the current Boudin exhibit,according to Earl A. “Rusty” Powell III,the museum's director.
“Boudin,for him,was a mini-passion. He had several of his works,” Powell said. “But to begin with Boudin seemed very,very appropriate,given his affection and love for this artist.”
The exhibit is on display in the National Gallery's East building from Sunday through
Aug. 5. The museum is on the National Mall,at 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. It's near Metro's red line's Judiciary Square stop,the yellow and green lines' Archives stop and the blue and orange lines' Smithsonian stop.
Admission is free. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Other events to honor Paul Mellon will be new exhibits of the British artist J.M.W. Turner and a gathering of rarely seen memorabilia,photos and documents capturing Mellon's relationship with the gallery. There will also be concerts,gallery talks,lectures and the release of a documentary,”Paul Mellon: In His Own Words.”
The events complement a worldwide celebration,with honors for Mellon planned in St. Petersburg,Russia; the Royal Academy of Arts in London; and Oxford,Cambridge and Yale Universities.
At the center of all the bravado,though,remain the simple paintings that brought quiet joy to Mellon and so many other of Boudin's admirers. Many of the pictures are set along France's Normandy coast,featuring men and women sunbathing,sailing and socializing.
“Beauty is enough,” said Florence E. Coman,curator of the exhibit. “There's no great social significance to these works,really. It's just lovely pictures and a reminder of a beautiful time and a state of mind of relaxation and happiness.”
As the French rail system developed in the 19th century,more affluent families sought solace from urban life on the beautiful coastlines. Boudin's subjects are generally aristocratic tourists enjoying respite from daily toil,and it was for these very subjects he painted,selling his works as souvenirs to tourists.
Though Boudin paid great attention to scenic detail and the nuances of his subjects' attire and posture,he rarely gave them discernible faces. This obscurity gives the paintings an air of universality,representing a distinct era but not distinct individuals.
“He placed his figures in groups across the width of the picture,without any particular focus on any one,” Coman said. “Costumes and architecture are carefully portrayed,but Boudin gave almost no individual characterization to his figures. Turned away,they could be almost any chic concert goers.
“He may have incorporated this woman and that woman who was there on the beach and posed for him,but the faces are any face.”
Boudin's paintings may not have made a distinct social statement,but their influence on the art world is unmistakable. The artist was a pioneer of working outdoors rather than in a studio,and he passed this practice along to a most successful student,Claude Monet.
“If I became a painter,it was thanks to Boudin,” Monet once said,according to Coman. “He was a man of infinite kindness who took it upon himself to teach me. Gradually my eyes were opened. I really understood nature,and at the same time,I began to love it.”
Monet shared his new love for outdoor work with painters such as Auguste Renoir,and together they created what is now known as Impressionism.
Despite Boudin's clear influence in the world of art,he downplayed his own importance.
“Please believe that I do not claim to hold such an elevated position among my contemporaries. I'm a loner,a daydreamer who has been content to remain in his part of the world and look at the sky,” Boudin once wrote in a biographical note,Coman said.
Boudin produced at least 5,500 paintings,Coman said.
“No one else did quite what he did when he did it,” Coman said. “There are people now who have copied what he did in respects,and there are other people who paint the same subject. But the combination of intimacy and this observation and real love of what was nature set him apart from his contemporaries.
“We hope that,like Mr. Mellon,everyone will take pleasure in their gentle and intimate beauty.”