A Monet Mentor’s Moment

Charles François Daubigny, an influence on Monet and van Gogh, gets a show of his own at Cincinnati’s Taft Museum

Until Charles François Daubigny, French landscape painting was largely an indoor sport. From the 1850s, the painter started a habit of working on his canvases just about anywhere but in a traditional studio. Inspired by the winding rivers and moody seascapes of northern France, he in turn inspired outdoor-minded masters from Claude Monet to Vincent van Gogh.

Born in 1817, Daubigny was famous for much of his career and for a few decades after his death in 1878. Then he turned into a sort of footnote, as a forerunner to impressionism. Now Cincinnati’s Taft Museum of Art is again giving the artist top billing, in the exhibition “Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape.”

Born into a family of painters, Daubigny scraped together enough money to visit the classical treasures of Italy while he was still in his teens. The show charts Daubigny’s development from a creator of old master-style works, like “Landscape near Crémieu” from around 1849. He likely began the Rhône Valley scene with detailed drawings and then slowly painted the final product in a studio with traditional small brushes. But Daubigny would soon change his working methods.

There was a longstanding tradition for French landscape painters to sketch outside the studio, says Simon Kelly, curator of modern and contemporary art at the St. Louis Art Museum. “Daubigny was the first to systematically produce finished work outdoors.” It helped that mid-19th century paint makers had perfected collapsible tubes, making paint more portable.

Daubigny bought a boat, which he turned into a floating studio and soon plied along French rivers, often in the company of his son Karl, stopping periodically to paint. By the 1870s, in a work like “Seascape,” he was painting clouds and waves by spreading paint on canvas with a palette knife. At this point, the impressionists were following Daubigny’s lead and creating landscapes outdoors. Monet even bought a boat himself and converted it into a floating studio. In 1890, van Gogh repeatedly painted the garden of Daubigny’s house, where his widow was still living. One version, usually in Basel, Switzerland, is on view in Cincinnati.


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