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The Barbizon School

The Barbizon School Collage

Started: 1830

Ended: 1870

"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

In reaction to the stylized and idealized depictions of figures and landscapes favored by Neoclassicism, most artists that formed part of the school approached painting in a naturalistic manner - capturing the things that they saw truthfully, making careful observations and painting directly from nature to faithfully reproduce the colors and forms of the countryside.
Although many pieces produced by artists from the school contain figures, most are without narrative and this echoes the wider tenets of the school in that the landscape itself forms the main subject matter of the work. The exception to this is Millet who extended the concepts of Naturalism to the human form, focusing on rural laborers in the area around Barbizon and often including a social commentary in his art.
The Barbizon painters trialed various techniques including applying wet paint onto wet paint, completing a canvas in a single sitting, and concentrating on the effects of light on the landscape. Many also worked using looser brushstrokes and a freer style than was traditional in Academic painting. These experiments had a profound impact on the work of the Impressionists who travelled to Barbizon as young artists to learn from the members of the 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.

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