The Endless Skies

Deauville, Eugène Boudin, 1893

Perhaps he could only bear to paint it
because of the sky in which he longed to swim
with quick brush strokes painting en plein air
the cumulus clouds alive, motile, aeons old,
pausing for only a moment to look down on
les parasites dorés with their parasols.

He made their villas – their palaces – so small,
the sky so big in its blueness that bleu
cannot describe the sentiment nor the vastness
painted bigger than the sea with its distant yachts.
In the forefront stands a cart with three ponies –
two white, one brown, stolid, as their driver fixes
a wheel and prepares to carry the passengers home.

He returned to Deauville to die beneath those skies
through which he swims like a Camargue pony riding
the étangs as the Deauville-La Toques Racecourse,
the Hotel Royal Barriere, the Grand Casino, so golden,
lose their glimmer and, like the seats of rainclouds,
begin to fall. Every painting captured the weather –
so transient and mutable, the people like little dolls
unable to find themselves in the endless skies
that will long outlast Boudin’s Deauville.

Image- Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), Deauville, 1893, © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London
Image: Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), Deauville, 1893,
© The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Boudin’s Deauville is currently on display in the Harris Museum in Preston. This is because it was chosen from the Courtauld Gallery in London by people who work at Red Scar Business Park, which was formerly Courtaulds Ltd, to highlight the connection. The Harris are encouraging local poets to write about the painting and adding them to a poetry book for visitors.

***

I didn’t know anything about Boudin until I saw the painting in the museum. I was impressed by the beauty of the sky and, when I looked up more of his work and his background, found out he was hailed as ‘king of the skies’. In his personal diary on Tuesday the 3rd of December, 1856 he wrote:

‘To swim in the open sky. To achieve the tenderness of clouds. To suspend these masses in the distance, very far away in the grey mist, make the blue explode. I feel all this coming, dawning in my intentions. What joy and what torment! If the bottom were still, perhaps I would never reach these depths. Did they do better in the past? Did the Dutch achieve the poetry of clouds I seek? That tenderness of the sky which even extends to admiration, to worship: it is no exaggeration.’

Boudin was not only a mystic of the skies. His paintings critiqued the transformation of Deauville into a fashionable resort for the upper classes, les parasites dorés ‘the golden parasites’, whilst the peasants of Brittany were ‘condemned to hard work in the fields, with black bread and water’. This is why he painted the skies so big and the people, nos petites poupée ‘our little dolls’, with their parasols, chairs, and beach cabins so small.

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