Around 1850 vacationers began to flock in unprecedented numbers to the Normandy coast, made accessible by recently completed railroad lines. Eugène Boudin, a native of Honfleur then in his twenties, sensed the pictorial potential of the burgeoning resort industry; a self-trained artist, he became the region’s visual chronicler. Punctuating superimposed bands of beach, sea, and sky with clusters of tourists, portable changing huts, and the occasional distant ship, he portrayed not only a new type of bourgeois leisure but also the hazy radiance of oceanside light. The young Claude Monet was struck by the brisk contemporaneity of these small-scale images and by Boudin’s practice of working in the open air. After they met, in 1858, Monet adopted the older artist as his principal mentor. It was partly at Monet’s urging that Boudin began to exhibit at the Paris Salon, where he was a staple from 1863 to 1870.
Several elements in Approaching Storm, shown at the Salon of 1864, suggest that Boudin was trying to vary his usual formula for beach scenes. While three horizontal bands appear in their customary configuration, the water is all but obscured by an uninterrupted sequence of forms—changing huts and figures of varying posture, dress, and size—whose agitated rhythms generate a sense of incipient disquiet. This effect is intensified by four flagpoles—staccato streaks against the darkening sky—as well as by the stark contrasts between shadow and sunlight: the central changing huts for example are blindingly white. Although Boudin vividly evoked the snap of the women’s crinolines and scarves in the wind, he did not exaggerate this little meteorological crisis; we are never allowed to forget that shelter is near in this engaging rendering of a pleasant outing about to be thwarted by the forces of nature.
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