Charles-François Daubigny

Parisian Charles-François Daubigny was born on the 15th of February 1817 and died four days after his 61st birthday. He was taught to paint by his father, and, after he had mastered the traditional style, he evolved his own. He liked to paint outside, and quickly so as to capture the light and weather; hence why he is known as an early impressionist. Claude Monet said of him, “there’s a fellow who really understands nature”. After seeing an exhibition of his paintings in The National Gallery of Scotland (go while you can!!), I would enthusiastically agree. It is obvious where his priorities lie: the light and the mood…both stemming from the colours. In many of his landscapes he enjoys including icy blue, baby pink, and bright yellow, just in small areas but nonetheless there, which would never have been seen in traditional landscapes. One contemporary critic described it as ‘garish’, which is understandable for the time, and gives one an idea of how sensitive they were to the smallest controversies. To depict a low sun, he maximises the contrast between a bright white-yellow disc and a much darker surrounding, with just some dark red highlights to link it together. This, combined with the scale, gives a really striking impression and needs to be seen in the flesh.

My personal favourite was ‘Octobre’. The colour palette is fairly subtle…but one can still enjoy the minty green, turquoise, pink and blue to be found in the sandy yellow sky. It is hard to see in the photo, but in real life, the bonfires’ glow is a beautiful contrast against the cool palette of the sky and dark warm natural colours of the land. The contrast emphasises the feeling of cold that day, nothing is anywhere near agreeing with the heat of the fire. Despite the wheelbarrow in the foreground to give a sense of depth, the fire is what the eye is drawn to first; a tiny refuge of warm against the vast cold of nature. The eye follows the smoke which turns into soaring birds, then up and out of the painting.


Octobre, Oil on Canvas, 87.5 x 160.5cm, c.1850-1878

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