The watercolour was initially for Jongkind no more than a technique - the snapshot recording the scene as he saw it, for later composition in oils. But Jongkind was later to realise that the technique had far more to offer.
He began to take particular care in his choice of support, preferring a thick and coarse-grained paper that would absorb his paint, with pores that collect and strengthen the tones. This allowed him to achieve nuanced transitions creating the atmosphere he was seeking.
His small box of paints held only eleven colours and some gouaches. The white of his paper was used to set off his vivid contrasting colours. Gouache was an important element in his technique, but he would come back to his brushstrokes and daub at his grassy bank or shaded cliff. The result is a watercolour with as much pictorial effect as an oil; but it has gained in flow and transparency.
He would draw nervously, rapidly, feverishly, returning to the sketch once the paintwork was done, overwriting his colours with a pencil. His drawings show masterly ease, as much in the detail as in the vast open horizons, each line an observation. Favouring selection, suggestion, contraction, over direct depiction, he achieves well-balanced compositions, having winnowed out all but the essential.
Once back at the studio he would sift through the wealth of drawings and watercolours he had accumulated and start out on something more substantial. Here again, however, he would not hesitate to remove the inessential, nor is he averse to introducing features that had long since disappeared from the landscape. These were paintings, he would say "d'après nature", or "inspired by nature".
His landscapes record an emotion, an impression; once decided on they brook no delay, and the nuances are finally the result of his flair. Jongkind's art lies in his understanding of space, his fine translation of effects proper to the atmosphere of his scene, the luminosity of the sky, the reflections off water.
His palette was not extensive, but always vivid - gentle and multiple greens, soft shades of yellow, light blues. The shades are juxtaposed intelligently and with subtlety in the nuances.
* * *
This text appeared in the "Affiches de Grenoble et du Dauphiné" on 26 February 1977. It is reproduced and translated here with the author's kind consent.