1819 - 1891
Johan Barthold Jongkind was initially taught by Schelfhout. In 1845, at the inauguration of the statue of William the Conqueror, he was introduced to Eugène Isabey and in 1846 began to frequent his studio. Isabey became an important influence on the artist’s early career. Jongkind divided his time between France and Holland. He was awarded a silver medal at the Salon of 1852; his Moonlight Pieces (Clairs de Lune), Views of Paris and Skaters established his reputation among art enthusiasts. In 1856, to pay off debts, Jongkind arranged for the Paris art dealer Firmin Martin to auction his work. In 1860 he was living in poverty when his friends Corot, Isabey, Rousseau and Bonvin organised another sale of his work on his behalf. He fled to Holland but the painter Cals sought him out and brought him back to Paris. Jongkind exhibited at the Salon des Refusés (exhibition of rejected work) in 1863, alongside Fantin La Tour, Whistler and Manet. From 1860, free now from the influence of both Isabey and Schelfhout, he began to develop a personal style and started to produce his best work. Around this time he began what was to be a lifelong relationship with Madame Fesser, whom he referred to as his ‘good angel’ and who became his pupil. During his visits to Honfleur (1862 to 1865) Jongkind met Claude Monet, Boudin and Charles Baudelaire. His notebooks show that in the company of Madame Fesser he travelled around France – to Nièvre in the Burgundy region and to the south of France – to Belgium, to the shores of Lake Geneva and to Isère, where he eventually settled in 1880, although he continued to visit Paris from time to time.
During his lifetime Jongkind did not enjoy the same success in Holland as the Maris brothers or Mauve. He was not unknown – the Goncourts and Roger-Marx favoured him – but he was still considered a minor artist. It was not until Manet and Cézanne became critically acclaimed that Jongkind too was taken up by art enthusiasts and impassioned artists such as Signac.
He merits comparison with Van Goyen, Ruysdael and in particular Rembrandt, indeed his etchings are often reminiscent of Rembrandt. His work has more in common with these artists than it does with the friends in Paris and Honfleur whom he influenced, but was not influenced by. Jongkind’s draughtsmanship is the key to his concise and shimmering style. What makes his painting great (like Lautrec) is his adherence to the essential qualities of his own artistry. Jongkind was blessed with a marvellous visual memory and back in his studio, away from the scenes he had observed, he was able to recreate them.
He excelled as both a watercolourist and an oil painter. From 1863 he began to paint some fine views of Honfleur and Paris (notably his views of Notre-Dame) which equal Corot’s best and are reminiscent of Vermeer’s View of Delft. Although, as a body, his oil paintings remain uneven (lesser works are usually commissions or painted as a matter of routine), his watercolours by contrast display the same authority and potential throughout his career. Jongkind remained faithful to the same ports and villages and his work lost nothing through repetition; as he grew older he felt less bound by convention and more open to new approaches. The Isère watercolours, often executed with a trembling hand, are quite astounding (in particular certain Snow Scenes) for the conciseness with which each thing is suggested, for the warmth of the energy they convey, for the transposition of colour – bolder still than that of the Impressionists or Cézanne – and for his yet greater natural sense of the organisation of space and light. Jongkind was in many ways an ingenuous, somewhat primitive artist who worked from instinct rather than theory, but who was capable of translating his emotions visually, and went on producing numerous small masterpieces consigned to his sketchbooks until they were removed and signed by the artist. Generous donations from Camondo and Moreau-Nélaton have provided the Louvre with a particularly fine collection of Jongkind watercolours, while the Netherlands, slower off the mark, is still trying to fill the gaps in its collections.