Landscape artist Theodore Rousseau was renowned for spearheading the Barbizon School of Landscape Painting in France. The school was established between a village and the forest of Fontainebleau in Paris, and his naturalist style and expertise in plein air painting were just some of his major contributions to the modern French art. He took inspirations from the style and approach of John Constable, Britain’s most influential landscape painter. Other influences included Aelbert Cuyp, a Dutch realism painter.
A good example of his naturalist landscape painting is The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest which he painted from 1852 to 1854. This painting was exhibited at the Salon of 1855. The first two years were spent on painting the panel in which the composition is reminiscent of 17th century Dutch landscapes. However, it was the subject matter that has contemporary mood. Overall, the painting depicts some parts of the forest, in which the trees might have been century-old. However some of those trees were cut down to harvest them in, a practice the painter strongly protested.
As one of the greatest 19th century French painters, Rousseau became a frequently referenced artist of the leading impressionists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. A few examples of his major oil paintings included the Panoramic View of the Ide-de-France (1830), Landscape with Boatman (1860), Sunset from the Forest of Fontainebleau (1848), and a series of prints.
Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau was born on April 15, 1812 in Paris, France. He was raised by a bourgeois family, in which his father was a famous tailor in the city. He was first trained to be a businessman but developed an inclination toward painting. His father did not approve of this at the beginning but the two were able to reconcile after some time. Since then, the painter would get the moral support of his father throughout his career, especially every time he would get in conflict with the Salon juries.
During his adolescent years, he practiced outdoor painting. It was a rare technique that other landscape artists used but Rousseau was able to master it nonetheless, showing how much potential he had as a young artist. Around 1829, he studied Classical arts under the mentorship of Lathiere and then under Charles Remond at the Fine Arts School of Paris.
During this period, the young Rousseau had been trained to draw landscapes and produce pastiches of the works hanging in the Louvre Museum particularly of Claude Lorrain’s. He also found the works of other landscape masters Jacob van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema, Richard Parkes Bonington, Salomon van Ruysdael, and John Constable compelling to be an inspiration. He specifically expressed great admiration to the English landscape painting.
In 1831, Theodore Rousseau began exhibiting at the Salon. It was then followed by another series of occasions from 1833 to 1836. In 1834 the Duke d’Orleans bought one of his paintings, and from here on out everything had been going well until 1836 when his works such as the Descente des Vaches were rejected by the Salon authorities. One of the primary reasons was the fact that Rousseau’s novel aesthetics did not match the traditional academic style.
Nevertheless, he still tried his luck with the Salon by submitting eight more works anywhere between 1836 and 1841. Unfortunately none of those submitted works were accepted, which led him to stop working for the Parisian Salon. But this will change in 1849 when the jury began accepting his works again. At this stage of his career, he had been enjoying his fair share of popularity emphasized by the press. He was even dubbed as the “le grand refuse”.
Despite the fact that the title has some kind of negative connotation to it, this did not stop him to produce important works of art. The latter part of the 1840’s to early 1850’s had been a productive one for him as he produced best landscapes such as The Marsh in the Landes, The Edge of the Forest, The Chestnut Avenue, A Glade in the Forest of Fontainebleau, and Hoar-Frost.
In 1848, Theodore Rousseau settled in a forest village near the Forest of Fontainebleau. He produced a large collection of pictures of the forest and the village, which were greatly admired by his contemporaries and would-be art students. The establishment of the Barbizon School was a culmination of Rousseau’s years of training and traveling all over France such as his trips to Normandy, Auvergne, and Brittany, in his effort to learn more about landscapes.
During the 1930’s, he produced Valley of St. Vincent as a notable art work of the decade. His other paintings represented the natural environment of the forest and the areas that surround Paris like the Plain or Monmarte of 1835. Near Monmarte was where the town of Barbizon located, wherein he stayed in 1840 and founded a group of landscape painters collectively called Barbizon School of Landscape Painting.
The school became known for hosting some notable students such as Charles-Francois Daubigny, Camille Corot, Joseph Harpignies, Antoine Louis Barye, Jules Dupre, and Charles-Emile Jacque. It is said that the school was instrumental in mapping out the rudiments of modern French landscape art and defined the artistic approach between Romanticism and Realism.
In 1853, Rousseau was faced with difficulties due to the constant rejection of his works by the authorities such as of the Exposition Universelle. His market value decreased as though he was no longer relevant in the industry. Thus, he thought about moving to Amsterdam or London where he could find fortune.
When he reached his later years, Rousseau found it difficult to recover from the series of unfortunate circumstances that he’d been in the past decade. It also didn’t help his cause that his wife became mentally unstable and his father demanded financial support from him. Another misfortune took place in the 1860’s when a family friend who stayed in his Barbizon cottage committed suicide. As he traveled across the Alps, Rousseau contracted a lung disease that required him to return to Barbizon.
In 1867 he was elected President of the Exposition but he was denied the chance to receive much more important awards. This had a significant impact onto this health but luckily he was able to recuperate quite quickly. On October 22nd of the same year, Theodore Rousseau died in his home in Barbizon at the age of 55.