"Be firm, be meek, but follow your own convictions.
It is better to be nothing than an echo of other painters.
The wise man has said: 'When one follows another, one is always behind.'"
Camille Corot, 1856
The Barbizon School of art was an informal movement in French landscape painting that lasted c. 1830 1870. Influenced heavily by the earlier 17th century Dutch masters Cuyp, Hobbema, and others, the Barbizon School advocated the direct observation of nature and its elements, reacting against earlier conventions of landscape painting. They rejected theory in favor of a more direct approach to their work. The movement laid the goundwork for the later development of the impressionist approaches to art.
Around 1848, Théodore Rousseau and several others left the hotbed of revolutionary Paris for the nearby French countryside, specifically the beautiful Forest of Fontainebleau near the village of Barbizon, giving the movement its name.
The artists of the movement sought to depict nature and life in a more realistic yet whimsical manner, focusing especially on country and peasant life. Having lived in Paris and seen the concerns in the city, these painters sought to ignore the political problems experienced there in favor of an interest in visible reality, that is, the toils, experiences, and thoughts of everyday life. The themes of country life therefore became central subjects for these French artists.
The Barbizon School developed a treatment of color and light that would extend into the later impressionist tradition. Using brushwork that gives a rough, muddy feeling of texture or blending the colors of a sky such that it appears fluid and dreamlike are techniques developed during this period that would appear later.
Artists of the Barbizon School
- Théodore Rousseau 1812-1867
Considered by many to be the "founder" of the school, Rousseau's artwork led him to be dismissed from the Salon from 1836 to 1847. The Salon represented the academic and theoretical tradition in art in France at the time. They focused mainly on painting fantasic and imaginative scenes, also including several erotic pieces. This sort of artistic approach drew crouds in the tens of thousands to view their work. Rousseau didn't follow these conventions, and his landscape work nevertheless earned him a good reputation throughout the country. Such pieces as Under the Birches were seen as an attempt to capture one moment in history, one place, one way of life as well as its various specifics.
- Jean-François Millet 1814-1875
Millet was one of the most controversial artists of the school. His piece The Sower drew a particularly large amount of controversy in the political climate of France at the time. It depicts an energetic farmer striding across a plowed field, scattering seeds. It was seen as being a new understanding of man as being tied to nature. He was later criticized for being a socialist; his depictions of the realities of peasant life weren't always well accepted. Comments Théophile Gauteier, a well known 19th century critic who wrote for a newspaper at the time:
"[he] trowels on top of his dishcloth of a canvas, without oil or turpentine, vast masonries of coloured paint so dry that no varnish could quench its thirst."
- Constant Troyon 1810-1865
Painting both the forest of Fontainebleau as well as other scenes at Brittany, the Dauphiné and Normandy, Troyon was known for his great admiration of the Dutch masters and visited Holland in 1847. He painted in much the same manner as the other artists of the school, except later in his career, he decided to focus on animal subjects beyond landscapes. This transition in his painting gave him a much greater amount of fame as well as financial success.
- Jules Dupré 1811-1889
Much more expansive and atmospheric in his work, Dupré did beautiful work with light and its properties relative to natural scenes. His work is much more dramatic that some of the other members of the school. Peña, for example, was a bit darker and less clear in his technique. Dupré maximized the effects of shadow on landscapes and therefore his pieces are much more immediately striking. Even Late Summer, one of his more mellow works, enhances the interaction between sunlight and earth. It offers contrasting depictions of the light on the water of a river versus on the bank and the huge tree perched there.
- Charles Émile Jacque 1813-1894
Having a background in printmaking and engraving, Jacque worked in the army and in London for some time before settling in Barbizon to paint the forest scenes that defined his later career. Like Troyon, he would eventually settle on painting animals, using the surrounding farmsteads as his main sources for subject matter. He painted almost exclusively things like henhouses and flocks of sheep out at pasture.
- Charles-François Daubigny 1817-1878
One of the early proponents of plein air painting in France, Daubigny was best known for his masterful treatment of the light at dawn and dusk, as well as moonlight. His piece On the Oise, one of his well known works showing the Oise River which runs through Belgium and France, shows a lovely scene on the banks of the river and handles the low light with skill. He did early work at the Salon, being accepted there when Rousseau wasn't until later. He would develop a strong friendship with Camille Corot, a realist artist who is often associated with the Barbizon School.
- Paul Desiré Trouillebert 1829-1900
Trouillebert is perhaps best known for the 1883 trial in which he was accused of being an imitator of Camille Corot, a painter often associated with the Barbizon School. Many of Trouillebert's works had his signature rubbed off and that of Corot added in order to fetch higher prices at auction. Using mellow colors that usually created a very monocromatic type of work, Trouillebert and Corot's works were nearly indistinguishable in many instances.
The Barbizon School is best remembered for its contributions to later Impressionist and Realist efforts. Having come out of a tradition in France that emphasized more sensational types of artwork that were designed mostly to gain an audience, the school sought to define their own terms when it came to artistic expression. Many were angered by the political situation in Paris and wished to make social commentaries through their work, but most simply desired to break with the common types of painting of the period.
http://www.hearts-ease.org/cgi-bin/gallery_work.cgi?ID=34&work=1 The Sower by Millet
http://www.hearts-ease.org/cgi-bin/gallery_work.cgi?ID=14&work=4 On the Oise by Daubigny
http://www.hearts-ease.org/cgi-bin/gallery_work.cgi?ID=43&work=1 Under the Bitches by Rousseau