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Around the age of 14, Théodore Rousseau made a journey to the Jura as assistant to his uncle, the sculptor Lemaire. This first contact with nature made a strong impression on him that endured throughout his life. On his return to Paris, he was unable to resume his studies at college. Another cousin, the landscape artist Pau de St-Martin, accepted Rousseau in his studio. Under his supervision, Rousseau made his first studies, mainly in the Compiègne region, including View of the Cemetery and the Telegraph Tower on Montmartre, which Rousseau still held in high regard at the end of his life.


Rousseau was not even 16 when his family decided he should enter the competition for the Prix de Rome. He first went to Rémond's studio to study illustration, later joining Guyon Lethières' studio. This new form of study did not appeal to Rousseau who was attracted to representations of what he saw as the simplicity of nature and not to the classical studies his different masters imposed on him.


After a long period of work in the forest of Compiègne and the Chevreuse valley, Rousseau sought out the forest of Fontainebleau for its romantic views. He began work in the Loing valley and his first subject was that of the Mill and the Footbridge. This was in 1830, when Rousseau was only just 18.


He spent a summer in the Auvergne and on his return, his works made a powerful impression on Guyon Lethières. In 1832, he tried to reproduce nature in the style of Constable and of Bonington, whose works he admired, and he went to work in Brittany to where these two painters had travelled. He was inspired by the Normandy coast and Brittany, and he especially liked Granville, finding an appeal in the powerful colouring of the cliffs and the violent tonalities of the seaweed at low tide.


Despite his highly individual interpretation of nature, his works convey something of his study of the Dutch masters whom he venerated and sought to imitate as closely as possible. In the Fontainebleau period, the Bellecroix plateau became his favourite place: he would paint there in all weathers. The Louvre owns a small picture from this period; a valuable product of his reflections.


Around 1835 Ary Scheffer invited Rousseau to his studio where he became influenced by the romanticist movement.


Repeated rejections by the official Salon caused a drop in the public's interest in Rousseau's work and he was unable to sell it. He took refuge in the forest of Fontainebleau, where he lived almost all year round, studying nature.


Despite his exile from the Salon, Rousseau had strong supporters among contemporary and successful artists: Diaz, Thoré, Barye and Jules Dupré all appreciated his talent. Around 1842, Rousseau had falled on such hard times that he was working for his inn-keeper when Dupré sent him 500 francs on behalf of Paul Perrier as an advance for one of his canvases.


Dupré had a strong influence on Rousseau at that time and taught him composition. Between 1840 and 1850, the two artists often shared a house. In around 1842, Rousseau made a journey to Berry on Dupré's advice. During these six months of solitude, he produced the bleakest pictures of his entire work such as Edge of the Wood. In 1844, another journey to the Landes in the company of Jules Dupré is recalled in his picture Marsh in the Landes. In this work, he attains his art of interpreting distances and it is essentially from this point that he interprets light with particular feeling. He brought back from this journey two grisailles, the Village Oven and the Farm in Les Landes, He painted his Hoar-Frost Effect and the Forest in Winter.


From around 1848, Rousseau worked to a large extent from previous studies; it was then that he reworked Farm in the Landes and the Village Oven. It is mainly in his drawings that Rousseau gives free rein to his naturalism. His picture of 1857, View of the Caves at Apremont, demonstrates that he does not interpret nature as he feels it but rather with a vision like that of Poussin.


In 1867, the sale of Rousseau's studio brought him a substantial sum and as a result he began acquiring rare proofs by Rembrandt and Japanese prints. He died, a the end of that year, at the height of his success.


Rousseau had obtained the following awards: in 1834, a third-class medal; in 1849, a first-class medal; a knighthood in the Légion d'Honneur on 16 July 1852; a first-class medal in 1855; a medal of honour in 1867; and he was made an officer in the Légion d'Honneur on 7 August 1867.


In 1831, he exhibited for the first time at the Louvre Salon with a Valley Bordered by the Cantal Mountains. In 1832, he submitted to the Salon Coast of Granville. In spite of his great talent, Rousseau was systematically rejected by the classicists at the Salon. The Salon finally opened its doors to him in 1848 and he was able to show his works to the general public. It was at this moment also that Jeauron procured for him an official commission: Edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, currently at the Louvre, a work which he was paid 4000 francs for. At the Exposition Universelle of 1855, a room was reserved for Rousseau and Decamps' work.


After 1848, Rousseau preferred solitude despite his successes and he moved to Barbizon permanently. Many friends came to visit. Millet, among others, became a close friend.


In the 20th century, he featured in the thematic collective exhibition, Between Heaven and Earth: Camille Pissarro and the Painters of the Oise Valley at the Musée Tavet-Delacour, Pontoise, in 2003.


Museum and Gallery Holdings


Amsterdam: Cave with Wolves

Amsterdam (Stedelijk Mus.): Great Oak; Rainbow

Ann Arbor (University of Michigan Mus. of Art): 2 drawings

Bayonne (Mus. Bonnat): Study of Rocks

Beaufort: Cottage in Berry

Besançon: Landscape

Béziers: Avenue of Trees

Boston: Landscape

Brest (MBA): Sunset (attributed)

Brussels: Paris

Chantilly: Landscape

Copenhagen (Statens Mus. for Kunst): Meadow near the Forest; Landscape with a Marsh; Tree by the Edge of the Water

Dallas (MA): Charcoal-Burners' Cabin (c. 1850, oil on canvas); Rock Oaks (1861, etching)

Detroit: Landscape

Dijon: Landscape

Glasgow: Heath; Forest of Clairbois

Lille: The Seine at Villeneuve-St-Georges

London (NG): Sunset in the Auvergne (1830, oil/wood); others landscapes

London (Wallace Collection): The Forest at Fountainebleau: Morning (c. 1850, oil on canvas)

Montpellier: Pond; Edge of the Forest of Clairbois

Moscow (State Tretyakov Gal.): Barbizon; Interior in Forest of Fontainebleau; Near a Watering Place

Nantes: Meadows and River; Cows at the Watering Place

New York (Metropolitan Mus. of Art): River; Forest; Corner of a Forest; Landscape; Fontainebleau; Trees around a Pond; Path through the Rocks (1861); Meadow Bordered by Trees (c. 1845); Sunset in Winter

Nice: Sunset

Paris (Louvre): Sunset at Fontainebleau; Le vieux Dormoir au Bas-Bréau; Marsh in the Landes; River Bank; Impression of a Storm; Banks of the Loire; Ferryman; Hillside; Landscape; Oaks; Plain; Village under the Trees; Spring; Fisherboy; Pond; Landscape with Animals; Pond with Oaks; Edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau; Avenue of Chestnut Trees at the Château in Souliers; The Coalmen Hut (oil on canvas)

Paris (Louvre, Chauchard Collection): Avenue, Isle-Adam Forest; Pond near the Road; Pond at the Foot of the Hillside; Footbridge; Road in the Forest of Fontainebleau; Cart; Pond

Rheims (MBA): Watering Place (study)

The Hague (Mus. Mesdag): Descent of the Cattle in the Jura; Mountain Landscape; Rocky Landscape; Small Pond; Watercourse in a Valley in Berry; Old Oak near Fontainebleau; Cut Trees (Fontainebleau); View of a Wood; Landscape with Trees; Great Oaks of Old Bas-Bréau; Road


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'Fontaineblaeu Forest, Orange and Yellow Sunset'
Cleaned and relined at the Robert Mitchell Conservation studio in a new frame made at the Mitchell Studio Gallery, Classic Frame Studio.
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Mitchell Studio Gallery