Johan Barthold Jongkind is born in Lattrop, Overijssel, as the eighth of ten children. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Vlaardingen for the work of his father, and later to Maassluis. His childhood therefore largely takes place along the water, which may explain his later preference for portraying harbors and wetland landscapes. From an early age, Jan - as his mother calls him - has been busy with pencils and sketchbooks and at school the subject of Drawing has his only real interest. After his school days, his parents look for him to work as a notary clerk, but when his father dies shortly afterwards - in 1836 - his mother supports his wish to study painting. He goes to the Teekenacademie in The Hague, where he is taught by the director, the romantic painter Andreas Schelfhout, who also takes him on as an apprentice in his studio.
In 1844 Jongkind submits a painting for the Arti et Amicitiae exhibition that is received as 'very modern' because of the looseness of painting and free composition. He has developed his own style at a young age, linking talent with idiosyncrasy, independence and sobriety. He also has a great ability to perceive and a very strong visual memory.
A year later, the French painter Eugène Isabey comes to the Netherlands to find a talented apprentice, among other things. He visits his friend Andreas Schelfhout, who draws his attention to Jongkind, his very best pupil. Jongkind receives an allowance of 300 guilders from the Prince of Orange to learn French and will receive an annual royal allowance of 100 guilders until 1853. And so on March 20, 1846, he left for Paris, where he went to live on Place Pigalle, where at that time many young painters, such as Rousseau, Boudin, Courbet and Corot, were busy training themselves in the 'en plein air'. paint and move to Barbizon.
The transition from 'village' The Hague to flamboyant Paris is great, but Jongkind quickly makes friends in the Parisian art world thanks to his good-natured, somewhat naive character. He feels at home and likes to go out, and he is certainly not averse to a drink. The common thread in his life is - in addition to his great talent - his alcohol problem in combination with regularly recurring bouts of paranoia. Most striking in such periods is that his work is not affected, while his personal care and life rhythm are disrupted.
In 1847 Jongkind made his first study trip to Normandy and Brittany. The work 'Port du mer', which he made there and then sent to the Paris Salon in 1848, was well received. Boudin describes him as 'The discovery from Holland'. In the same year he stayed with Schelfhout at Paleis Het Loo, where he taught him the technique of watercolor painting. This technique becomes very important in Jongkind's oeuvre: it is fleeting, can be applied outdoors and is very suitable for someone with a steady hand at work, like him.
Despite his artistic growth and pleasant social life, school years in France are difficult for Jongkind at times when melancholy dominates. When the Royal Subsidy stopped in 1853 and things did not go well afterwards, he left for the Netherlands in 1855 - shortly after the death of his mother - for a longer period of time. He is very productive: he paints and watercolors extensively and sends his work to the art dealer Pierre-Firmin Martin, who looks after his business in Paris. But he misses (the criticism of) his French painting friends, who visit him occasionally and with whom he mostly corresponds. He suffers from hallucinations, but surprisingly enough, his hand becomes steadier and changes occur in his use of color and light, as a result of which Victorine Hefting remarks much later: 'This is the beginning of what one means when he is impressionism is indicated'.
Five years after his departure from France in 1860, art dealer Martin and Jongkind's French painting friends bring him - as one of them - back to Paris, where they have rented and furnished a room for him. The necessary amount for this aid campaign was collected at an auction organized for him, for which they all contributed their own painting. A turning point in his life was the meeting with Joséphine Fesser in 1861. She was born in Namur of Dutch parents; a drawing teacher, who is interested in (painting) art and who will later start painting herself. She is married to Alexandre Fesser, a cook, with whom she has a son, Jules, who usually stays with his father. Jongkind is attracted to her and she is interested in his work and himself and feels a motherly urge to help him. With her help, he gets his life under control and Jongkind and 'Madame Fesser' become inseparable. Their life takes place in Paris - where they later live together - along the Normandy coast - Honfleur, Le Havre with its seaside resort Ste. Adresse - and in Nevers, where they often visit Alexandre Fesser and Jules. The Netherlands is also regularly visited. Wherever he is, Jongkind tries to analyze the light in an intuitive way. He doesn't like theories and wants to discover everything for himself. In addition to his training, he always remains a pioneer, deciding how to proceed at every step. His work is becoming freer and more independent; he knows how to achieve an optimal effect with few means, so that his most beautiful watercolors are created during this period. Jongkind has found its definitive top. His work seems to be a fusion of the dampness of the Dutch wetlands and French clarity. His colleagues are full of praise and do not imitate him. Jongkind is happy to share his working method with them. He works with Monet, Boudin, Sisley, Diaz, Troyon and Corot, among others. In September 1864 he spent almost every day with Claude Monet, with whom he became friends. In July 1865, Monet calls him 'my true teacher' in a letter to his painter friend Bazille and writes 'To him I owe the true teaching of my eye.' But some other painters will later acknowledge his influence on their development.
In the period 1866 -'69 Jongkind and Madame Fesser visited the Netherlands four times. He sends more than 50 watercolors to Paris, from which later his oil paintings are created. The most beautiful works are also created en route in Antwerp. He sometimes sits by the water for hours observing a situation and then makes a watercolor in twenty minutes. In 1869 a series of paintings of Rotterdam and Gouda was created, mainly nocturnes, which are especially appreciated in France.
Because of his life in France and the French enthusiasm for his work, Jongkind feels just as much connected with this country as with the Netherlands. During the construction of the great boulevards in Paris - around 1868 by Haussmann - he was there. He sees the painterly value of these excavations and works uninterruptedly, which earned him the attention of Émile Zola - whom he knew through Monet - in 1873 in an article in 'La Cloche': 'I rediscovered this intense love for contemporary Paris in Jongkind , I cannot say with how much joy. He understands that Paris remains picturesque until its demolition '.
After the death of Alexandre Fesser in 1875 and of Jongkind's last family member in the Netherlands, people suddenly travel much less. Jongkind is now 57 years old and old for his age because of his many ailments. Jules Fesser buys the Beau Séjour house in La-Côte-Saint-André for his family and also sets up a living and studio space for his mother and Jongkind. La-Côte-Saint-André becomes Jongkind's new source of inspiration. The house, the village, the surroundings: he is found there every day with his sketchbook. He is still very productive and again beautiful works are created here. In 1880 they made a trip to the Cote d'Azur and he returned with an enormous amount of watercolors, almost all of which can later be found in the Louvre.
In May 1882, the art dealer Détrimont dedicated a successful exhibition to Jongkind's work, the only one ever held during his lifetime. Edmond de Goncourt writes in the Journal des Goncourt: 'One thing touched me during this exhibition and that is the influence of Jongkind [sic] Every landscape that counts a little nowadays leads back to the painter, makes use of his skies, his atmosphere, are well-known elements. That hits you right away and it has never been mentioned before, by no one.'