Barbizon School of Landscape Painting Flourishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Inspired by masters of the Dutch golden age and by Romantic art from England, the landscape painters of France’s Barbizon school opposed academic tradition by advocating plein air painting and naturalism in art. The painters concentrated on natural scenes and life in rural France and showed concern for environmental preservation. Their attention to changing light and atmospheric conditions inspired the development of Impressionism.

Summary of Event

During the early nineteenth century, the French art establishment was governed to a large extent by classical doctrine founded on the principles of order, clarity, and harmony. Institutions such as the École des Beaux-Arts (school of art) and its state-sponsored salons showed a marked preference for heroic themes laden with historical, religious, or mythological symbolism. The Italianate style of landscape painting, with its stock ruins and Arcadian vistas, had become a standard feature in academic art, but it relied less on the direct observation of nature than on mastery of idealized space and composition. Barbizon School Art;Barbizon School France;art Rousseau, Théodore Millet, Jean-François [kw]Barbizon School of Landscape Painting Flourishes (c. 1830-1870) [kw]School of Landscape Painting Flourishes, Barbizon (c. 1830-1870) [kw]Landscape Painting Flourishes, Barbizon School of (c. 1830-1870) [kw]Painting Flourishes, Barbizon School of Landscape (c. 1830-1870) [kw]Flourishes, Barbizon School of Landscape Painting (c. 1830-1870) Barbizon School Art;Barbizon School France;art Rousseau, Théodore Millet, Jean-François [g]France;c. 1830-1870: Barbizon School of Landscape Painting Flourishes[1520] [c]Art;c. 1830-1870: Barbizon School of Landscape Painting Flourishes[1520] Dupré, Jules Troyon, Constant Diaz de la Peña, Narcisse-Virgile Daubigny, Charles-François Jacque, Charles

Leading teachers and critics of academic art generally advocated some direct study of nature in the early stages of composition, mainly through sketches or preliminary studies; however, it was still generally expected that the major portion of an artist’s work be conducted in a studio. The practice of outdoor painting called plein air painting was not yet common. Only later did the introduction of oil-based paint in tubes and lighter equipment, portable easels in particular, allow artists to wander the countryside more freely in search of inspiration. The creation of a Prix de Rome for landscape painting in 1817 ultimately led to a greater appreciation for the genre and provided an incentive for young artists to develop their skills in the study of nature.

During the 1820’s and 1830’s, as Romanticism Romanticism;French was coming to fruition in French art and literature Literature;French , the public’s growing interest in regional and national history fueled a buoyant market for illustrated travel books. A growing number of artists, inspired by the Dutch landscapists of the seventeenth century and by expositions of English Romantic art in the French capital, set out to discover the spirit of rural France and the beauty of its natural surroundings. One favorite destination, given its convenient proximity to Paris, was the humble farming community of Barbizon, located on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau in north-central France. Artists looking to escape the noise and pollution of the cities traveled to Barbizon on vacation, immersing themselves in nature and observing the local inhabitants at work.

The now-famous Auberge Ganne Auberge Ganne , established in Barbizon by a former stonecutter and his wife sometime around 1824, provided inexpensive lodging and served as a meeting place not only for avant-garde landscape painters but also for sculptors and writers. By midcentury, the village had become easily accessible by rail, increasing the village’s ability to attract a wide spectrum of artists. A detailed list of clients maintained by the owners of the Auberge Ganne between 1848 and 1861 identifies scores of artists who came to visit, some from Germany, Switzerland, and from as far away as America.

The leading members of the Barbizon school were Théodore Rousseau, Jules Dupré Dupré, Jules , Constant Troyon Troyon, Constant , Charles-François Daubigny, Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña, Diaz de la Peña, Narcisse-Virgile Charles Jacque Jacque, Charles , and Jean-François Millet. Rousseau first visited Barbizon around 1828, before settling there permanently in 1846. He gained notice as a landscape painter during the early 1830’s, exhibiting at the Parisian salons of 1831, 1833, 1834, and 1835. However, his liberal political leanings and opposition to classical standards in art led to his exclusion from subsequent salons until the fall of the July Monarchy in 1848.

During the 1850’s and 1860’s, at the height of Rousseau’s popularity, his radical naturalism found expression in rapid brushwork, rough textures, and subdued colors. His paintings, many of them now preserved in major museums Museums;art throughout Europe and the United States, present an assortment of wooded vales, forest clearings, ponds under cloudy skies, marshes, quaint hamlets, and isolated farms often cloaked in melancholy. Genuinely concerned with the progressive destruction of France’s forests, Rousseau initiated a campaign resulting in the creation of national land preserves in the forest of Fontainebleau in 1852 and 1853.

Felled trees are common in the work of Jules Dupré and Constant Troyon. Both artists had become acquainted with Rousseau during the early 1830’s and later accompanied him to remote sites to paint. Dupré’s Landscape with Cattle of 1837, featuring a severed trunk in its central foreground, illustrates the artist’s dismay at the destruction of trees. Like other Barbizon painters, Dupré and Troyon were profoundly influenced by Dutch Baroque art, which had gained popularity among liberals for its egalitarian spirit. After a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium in 1847, where he admired paintings by Albert Cuyp Cuyp, Albert (1620-1691) and Paulus Potter Potter, Paulus (1625-1654), Troyon Troyon, Constant specialized in large-scale landscapes with livestock.

It appears that Charles-François Daubigny did not spend a substantial amount of time in Barbizon, but nonetheless he made trips with Rousseau and Dupré to Valmondois and L’Îsle-Adam, which are north of Paris, in 1846. River landscapes became a dominant feature in his art. In 1857, he set up a studio and living quarters on a boat so that he could devote himself to plein air painting along the Seine, Marne, and Oise Rivers. His Evening on the Oise (1863) and On the Banks of the Oise (1864) are typical of his style.

Narcisse-Virgile Diaz Diaz de la Peña, Narcisse-Virgile de la Peña made regular trips to the forest of Fontainebleau and spent time with Rousseau in 1837. His choice of subjects varied considerably over the years, ranging from provocative nudes and mythological allegories to the Barbizon-styled landscapes for which he is best remembered. Like Rousseau, he was attentive to the effects of light and atmosphere on his subjects. Various landscapes of the 1860’s, including Landscape with a Pine Tree (1864) and Heights of Le Jean de Paris (1867), suggest the influence of Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael (1628-1682) on his style.

Jean-François Millet moved to Barbizon in 1849, as did Charles Jacque Jacque, Charles , who specialized in painting barnyard scenes and livestock. Both men were influenced by Dutch art. Millet’s realist paintings of French peasants, including The Sower (c. 1850), The Gleaners (1857), and Man with a Hoe (1860-1862), were, however, wrought with controversy. While Millet’s paintings appealed to socialists and liberals as a tribute to the humblest members of French society, conservatives saw in them the nefarious seeds of revolution. After the mid-1860’s, Millet turned to landscape painting in the fashionable Barbizon style.


Despite its nostalgic appeal, the term “Barbizon school” remains a problematic one for art historians. Not all artists associated with the school were primarily landscape painters, and personal styles varied considerably. All of these artists, however, were affected by the urban-industrial revolution that was transforming not only the French landscape but also French society. The Barbizon circle of artists, sensing the dangers of unbridled progress, intuitively looked to the heartland of rural France for social, moral, and artistic sustenance. The stolid peasant figures, for example, that populate Millet’s art are pendants to the massive oaks and solitary pines common in paintings by Rousseau and Dupré. Dupré, Jules Peasants and trees, both at odds with the destructive forces that surround them, are at once symbols of stability and loss.

After the Paris Revolution of 1848, the Barbizon painters set the tone in French landscape painting. Art collectors in the United States were particularly eager to purchase their paintings, and this sometimes led to bidding wars between French and American buyers. One of the founders of the Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island;School of Design American painter William Morris Hunt Hunt, William Morris (1824-1879), was a great admirer of the Barbizon school and did much to promote its appreciation within the United States. The Barbizon painters also contributed to the development of French Impressionism Impressionism;and Barbizon school[Barbizon school] by championing the practice of plein air painting, by reducing their field of vision, and by demonstrating the advantageous use of short brush strokes and dabs of paint.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adams, Steven. The Barbizon School and the Origins of Impressionism. London: Phaidon Press, 1994. Presents the evolution of French landscape painting from the neoclassical era to late nineteenth century Impressionism. Discusses to what extent the Barbizon painters influenced the Impressionist movement. Includes numerous full-color prints.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bouret, Jean. The Barbizon School and Nineteenth Century French Landscape Painting. Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1983. Examines the lives and careers of eight leading Barbizon painters. A good source of anecdotal information.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Burmester, Andreas, Christoph Heilman, and Michael Zimmermann, eds. Barbizon: Malerei der Natur Nature der Malerei. Munich, Germany: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1999. An important collection of articles on the Barbizon school of painters. Texts in English, French, and German.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Herbert, Robert L. Barbizon Revisited: Essay and Catalogue. New York: Clarke and Way, 1962. A critical survey of Barbizon landscape painting from the 1820’s to the late 1870’s. Includes monochrome and color reproductions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sillevis, John, and Hans Kraan, eds. The Barbizon School. The Hague, Netherlands: Haags Gemeentemuseum, 1985. A collection of thirteen articles, with special emphasis on Dutch and Flemish influences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thomas, Greg M. Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France. The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000. Examines the importance of ecological themes in Rousseau’s art, and uncovers similar themes in the art of Dupré, Diaz de la Peña, Jacque, and Millet.

Emergence of the Primitives

Paris Salon of 1824

Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Begins

Courbet Establishes Realist Art Movement

First Impressionist Exhibition

Post-Impressionist Movement Begins

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Categories: History