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The Barbizon School

The Barbizon School Collage
Started: 1830
Ended: 1870
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Go to the country - The muse is in the woods.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot Signature

Summary of The Barbizon School

Pioneers of the Naturalist movement in landscape painting, The Barbizon School was a loose association of artists who worked around the village of Barbizon, located just outside Paris near the Forest of Fontainebleau. Members came from different backgrounds and worked in a range of styles but they were drawn together by their passion for painting en plein air and their desire to elevate landscape painting from a mere background to mythological or classical scenes to a subject in its own right. The rugged countryside and ancient trees of the forest held a powerful attraction and inspired several generations of artists from Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau, and Jean-François Millet to Renoir and Manet.

Key Ideas

Key Artists

Overview of The Barbizon School

The Barbizon School Image

The Forest of Fontainebleau first began attracting artists in the 18th century including the Neoclassicists Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld, Théodore Caruelle d'Aligny, and Alexandre Desgoffe. The painters were drawn, not only, to the wild and varied landscape, but also to the French fables and legends that were associated with the forest. It was, however, the arrival of Corot and Théodore Rousseau in the early 19th century that made the area into a magnet for artists including Jean-François Millet, Charles-François Daubigny, Constant Troyon, Charles Jacque, and Narcisse-Virgilio Díaz de la Peña.

Important Art and Artists of The Barbizon School

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot: Fontainebleau: Oak Trees at Bas-Bréau (c. 1832-33)

Fontainebleau: Oak Trees at Bas-Bréau (c. 1832-33)

Artist: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

This image of a section of the forest famous for its large Oak trees exemplifies the naturalistic treatment that Corot explored at Barbizon (having first developed the technique in Italy in the late 1820s). The colors of the earth, the rugged tree trunks, and their precise foliage are almost photographic in their rendering. The viewer's eye is drawn into the woods and to the sky above, where the shape of a billowing cloud echoes the foliage of the trees. Reflecting the Dutch landscape painters' practice of depicting the landscape in three horizontal bands, Corot expands the middle zone of the trees so that a sense of their vitality and expansiveness is conveyed.

In this early work from the group, Corot brought a modern directness to landscape painting, putting aside both the Neoclassic tradition of landscape as backdrop and Romanticism's preference for sublime nature, in order to simply portray the landscape as he saw and felt it. The simplicity of the subject matter and its detailed observation reflect this. Corot reused the large tree that forms the focus of the image in his painting Hagar in the Wilderness (1835) which was displayed at the Salon the same year.

Jules Dupré: Oak Trees and Pond (1850-1855)

Oak Trees and Pond (1850-1855)

Artist: Jules Dupré

Depicting a quiet pond, where a herd of cattle are drinking, this image emphasizes the towering oak tree that rises from the low horizon up to the stormy sky. The tree dominates the image, reaching out to the edges of the canvas on two sides and forming an intense focal point for the viewer against the whites and greys of the clouds. The herdsmen driving the cattle are barely visible, suggesting the insignificance of humanity in comparison to nature, represented by the oak. Whilst demonstrating a naturalistic treatment of elements within the image, the painting is essentially a product of Romanticism conveying the power of nature through both the oak tree and the dramatically lit clouds which threaten an impending storm.

Whilst visiting England in the early 1830s, Dupré encountered the work of John Constable. This landscape with its precisely depicted botanical details, muted but realistic hues, and subject matter showing a quiet scene of rural life demonstrates Constable's significant influence on Dupré. Dupré is sometimes credited with bringing the English style of landscape painting (of which Constable was a key proponent) to France. Whilst it is highly likely that Dupré popularized the style amongst members of the Barbizon School, Constable was certainly not unknown in Paris prior to this point due to his exhibition of paintings at the Salon.

Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray: The Beech Tree (1855-1857)

The Beech Tree (1855-1857)

Artist: Jean-Baptiste Gustave Le Gray

This photograph depicts a single great beech tree in the Forest of Fontainebleau that seems to lean back as if tearing free of the earth and exposing its roots. As a result, the tree conveys a sense of movement, a dynamic energy, as its foliage fills up the picture frame, its trunk glowing with sunlight.

Le Gray's work brought the then new art of photography to the Barbizon School. He was one of the most important early French photographers, due to his iconic photographs, his technical innovations in the medium, and his influence as a teacher. His students included Charles Nègre, Henri LeSecq, Olympe Aguado, and Masime Du Camp. Like the painters, he often depicted the forest by focusing on particular trees, which became dynamic, central characters. As a result, a mutually influential relationship developed between photography and painting in Barbizon.

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson

"The Barbizon School Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 19 Apr 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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