It’s probably a safe bet you’ve never heard of Charles François Daubigny (DOE-bin-yee).
A French landscape painter during the 19th century, Daubigny's work was admired during his lifetime but faded from popularity a century ago. However, he profoundly influenced younger artists who went on to great fame.
Cincinnatians are about to learn just how important he was, thanks to “Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape,” an exhibition that will be on view Feb. 20-May 29 at the Taft Museum of Art. It’s a chance to explore his work and its impact.
Here are nine things to know about Daubigny and this show:
1. This exhibition is the first time Daubigny has been the subject of a major international show. With three paintings from its own collection, the Taft is the exclusive U.S. venue. (After Cincinnati the exhibition moves in June to the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then to Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in October.) To see all 55 paintings after this exhibition is over, you’ll have to travel to two dozen cities — coast to coast in North America, as well as European centers such as London and Paris. Even then you wouldn’t see the works borrowed from private collections.
2. Daubigny was famous in his own time. His paintings remained popular for 40 years after his death, but he was eclipsed by the Impressionists, the next generation of artists. About 20 years older than Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, Daubigny began his career painting traditional, dark, detailed landscapes, using a “finished” style that critics approved of.
3. According to Lynne Ambrosini, director of collections and exhibitions at the Taft and one of the organizers of this exhibition, “The most remarkable thing about Daubigny is how his work changed.” Over time, he became more progressive and experimental. “He went from very dark pictures to paintings that are much lighter and brighter, very vivid pictures.” In fact, his paintings were sometimes criticized as “too sketchy” and “mere impressions” before that term was admiringly applied to works by Monet and others.
4. Daubigny was the first artist to focus on painting outdoors. Previous landscape painters stayed in their studios, fussing over minute realistic details. Painting en plein air (“in open air”), Daubigny had to work quickly to capture the effects of weather and light, the “evanescent qualities of nature,” said Ambrosini.
5. In the late 1850s, Daubigny worked from a “studio boat,” the first artist to paint river views of French waterways from a water-level perspective. (The Taft’s exhibition includes a replica of his craft, plus 15 etchings of his rustic, informal life on board.) Monet admired these paintings by Daubigny and in the early 1870s had his own boat, from which he painted some of his greatest masterpieces. (See Daubigny’s “The Village of Gloton” and Monet’s “Autumn on the Seine.”)
6. Painting outdoors and in bright sunlight, Daubigny gravitated toward new pigments, including brighter, synthetic colors. “By later in his career, he’s painting very freely with brighter colors and in a much more bold and spontaneous way,” Ambrosini noted. The Impressionists famously adopted many of the intense hues he favored. (See Daubigny’s “Sunset near Villerville.”)
7. As a juror who selected paintings for prestigious French art salons, Daubigny chose works by Monet and Pissarro, helping to launch their careers. He introduced the younger artists to his French art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. Ambrosini said Daubigny initially assured the dealer that, if their works didn’t sell, he would add some of his own to a gallery show. In later years, the dealer became a champion of the Impressionists.
8. Daubigny painted other outdoor subjects that artists had previously ignored, including blossoming trees in orchards. These inspired the much younger Vincent Van Gogh.
9. Van Gogh had profound admiration for Daubigny, which he expressed repeatedly in his letters to his art dealer brother. Van Gogh adopted Daubigny’s use of double-wide landscape canvases; without his influence the younger painter’s work would have been very different. (See Van Gogh’s “Daubigny’s Garden” from 1890.)
“Impressions of Landscape” is sure to be a blockbuster for the Taft, and big crowds are expected. To better manage the experience for museumgoers, the Taft is issuing timed tickets for this show. Order tickets online via taftmuseum.org ($15 for non-members Tuesday-Saturday, $5 on Sundays). Ordering a ticket in advance is recommended to avoid an entry delay.
“Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape”
When: Feb. 20-May 29
Where: Taft Museum of Art, 316 Pike St.
Tickets: $15 for non-members Tuesday-Saturday, $5 on Sundays.
Free onsite parking.