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French, circa 1830 – 1870
Height 16’ (41cm) Width 20” (51cm)
Stock No. 9540
Since 1648, the French Royal Academy had dictated artistic conduct from its artists, insisting on the emulation of idealised Renaissance art, and landscapes were not considered an acceptable art form unless they were part of, or represented, neo-classical or ancient poetry. In an effort to restore historical landscape painting in France to its 17th century glory, the French Academy introduced a Prix de Rome in ‘paysage historique’ in 1816. A prize awarded every four years, its recipient was to live and work in the Villa Medici in Rome and paint from life the antiquities and their surrounding landscape. However, following the exhibition of John Constable’s pictures in the Paris Salon in 1824 and, with young artists from all over Europe coming to study the 17th century Dutch and Flemish landscapes at the Louvre, this prize was to have the opposite effect.
Rather than travel to Italy to paint outdoors and immerse themselves in nature, it was to Fontainebleau that the artists travelled in the summer months. This part of France was an ideal source of inspiration for artists to paint ‘en plein air’ – outdoors and from life – and was easily accessible from Paris. The climate suited the growth of a wide variety of different trees and these became the focus of the artists, along with lives and activities of the villagers and woodcutters who lived in the tiny hamlets surrounding the forests. In one of these villages, Barbizon, a newly built inn, the Auberge Ganne, attracted the artists of the day, where they stayed and discussed techniques, thereby establishing the area as a meeting place for like minds. It was only during the next era of art in France, the Impressionist movement, that the expression ‘Barbizon School’ was coined, in recognition of the pioneering impact the art form had had on the development of landscape painting.
With industrialisation becoming widespread, the artists and the buyers of their work sought respite from city life, seeking a less idealised and more personalised version of nature. Sketches and studies were made outdoors and the paintings were then finished in the studios back in Paris. However, in an endeavour to capture the true effects of natural light and atmosphere and thereby rejecting Academic ideals, many of the paintings retained the sketched look with larger areas of colour and visible brush strokes, creating a true subjective naturalism. Of the nearly 700 artists who had made the pilgrimage to the forest by 1860, many have remained names of significance, such as Jean-Francois Millet, Theodore Rousseau, Camille Corot and Jules Dupré.