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Théodore Rousseau

French Painter

Théodore Rousseau Photo
Movements and Styles: The Barbizon School, Naturalism, Romanticism

Born: April 15, 1812 - Paris, France

Died: December 22, 1867 - Barbizon, France

"Silence is golden. When I am at my observation post at Belle-Croix, I dare not move, for silence enables me to penetrate to the heart of discoveries. Then the forest families begin to stir. It was silence that enabled me, standing as still as a tree-trunk, to watch the stag cleaning himself... The man who lives in silence becomes the center of the world."

Theodore Rousseau Signature

Summary of Théodore Rousseau

Théodore Rousseau was known for his exceptional and unconventional nature based paintings. He was highly regarded as a pioneer and a leader of the Barbizon School of landscape art. Having realized his love for nature and his desire for expressing it through landscape paintings early in life, Rousseau was one of the earliest artists to have ventured directly in the outdoors to observe and analyze natural forms. He had thus made a decision on the choice of his subject that led him to ultimately pioneer and lead the Barbizon School. Painting landscape for its own sake, Rousseau elevated its status from that of a mere background support to becoming an independent entity. Even as all of his works were products of direct empirical studies from nature, he was able to create within them an extraordinary poignancy that was unique - which was much like his signature.

Key Ideas

Rousseau created a parallel world where nature's pristine power and glory could cast away the artificiality of industrialized modern life.
At times his works were considered lacking 'finish'. This effect was however, intentional by the artist who wanted to paint by being true to his observation of nature. Impressionist artists, who would follow soon, took this technical aspect of Rousseau further to create a new aesthetic.
With a mature understanding of current debates around mimetic vs. creative abilities of artists, Rousseau blended objective naturalism and his own artistic subjectivity to bring out an awe-inspiring landscape painting so as to fulfill the true role an artist.
Many of Rousseau's paintings challenged the dominant pictorial conventions of Neoclassicism and Romanticism. One of his early experiments depicting The Descent of Cows from the High Plateaus of the Jura is a clear breakaway from the typical horizontal orientation of western landscape art.
Théodore Rousseau Photo

Born into a bourgeois Parisian family, Étienne Pierre Théodore Rousseau began exploring his love of landscape painting as early as age fourteen. His father, a tailor, originally positioned him to study business, but a journey to the Jura region of France changed his destiny. Known for its staggering limestone cliffs and lush forests, this location inspired in the young Rousseau a fervent urge to paint landscapes that would hold sway over him until the end of his life. On this transformative voyage he was fortunate enough to meet a fellow passenger who happened to be a sculptor named Lemaire. Rousseau learned from him the ways in which artists perceive nature and objects around them. Upon his return, he was encouraged by his mother's cousin, the landscape painter Alexandre Pau de Saint-Martin, to try his hand at painting. It was in Saint-Martin's studio that he first observed the art of painting in nature while he was accompanying his uncle to the Forest of Compiègne. The young Rousseau showed such immediate artistic promise that his parents soon decided to support his ambitions by sending him to the studio of Joseph Rémond in 1826.

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