Barbizon Painting: A Brief Introduction
Barbizon painting refers to artworks created in the Realist style, produced between 1830 and 1870. As a European art movement, it referenced Romantic movement trends but focused more on landscape painting and depictions of pastoral work.
With leading painters such as Jean Francois Millet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, it characterized mid-century European art.
So, what exactly was Barbizon-style painting? This brief introduction presents the movement’s leading artists and their iconic Romantic period art.
What was the Barbizon School known for painting?
The Realism paintings of this art movement focused on landscape art painted for its own sake. In terms of inspiration, Barbizon artists adored seventeenth-century Dutch and French landscape painters.
These inspirations included artists such as Claude Lorraine and Nicolas Poussin, who focused on meticulous depictions of the natural world. In addition, these artists deeply respected contemporary English landscape painters such as John Constable.
Like their earlier French and Dutch counterparts, these artists approached their art with sensitive observation and a profound respect for the natural world.
The Paris Salon showed John Constable’s paintings for the first time in 1824. These paintings prompted many French artists to abandon their previously classical and formal approaches. Instead, they drew inspiration directly from nature and rural life.
Barbizon Painting: A Definition
Barbizon paintings often depicted scenes from the French countryside. They featured rural views, farm workers, and scenes from village life. As well as the subject matter, the artists often used carefully muted colors. These tones gently blended and melted into one another.
While pre-dating the impressionist movement, Barbizon painters focused on the shifting qualities of light. Indeed, they often painted immense skies and reflections in the water. These paintings were soft and serene, presenting views unchanged by the modern industrial age.
Why is it called the Barbizon School?
The School took its name from the village of Barbizon. This rural setting bordered the Forest of Fontainebleau in France.
Many of the movement’s leading artists gathered in this picturesque location, which inspired their artworks. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s View of the Forest of Fontainebleau (1830) and Scene in the Forest of Fontainebleau (1846) are just two examples.
Who were the Barbizon painters?
Leading painters include Jean Francois Millet, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Charles-Francois Daubigny. In addition, other artists such as Theodore Rousseau, Jules Dupres, Charles Jacque, and Constant Troyon contributed to the movement.
Some Art Historians question Millet’s inclusion in the Barbizon School, however. He lived in the village of Barbizon from 1849. Nonetheless, Millet prominently included figures in his art (only using landscapes as a backdrop). This subject matter set him apart from other painters in the movement.
Corot was one of the earliest Barbizon painters. He painted the forest of Fontainebleau for the first time in 1829. He returned to beautiful Barbizon in the autumn of 1830 and again in 1831.
Reflecting the life-long importance of the geographical area to these artists, several painters chose to spend their last days in the village. Both Jean Francois Millet (who died in 1875) and Theodore Rousseau (who died in 1867) passed away in Barbizon.
What is the Barbizon style?
The Barbizon style incorporated many different artistic techniques. Their painting often involved using wet oil paints applied directly on top of other wet colors (known as “alla prima painting” or “au premier coup”). Loose brushwork was also common.
In contrast, painters working in classical Academic styles featured highly controlled, near-invisible brushwork. While the artists kept a focus on realistic depictions, they brought more emotion and feeling into their works than previously seen.
They often completed finished artworks in a single setting, focusing on the effects of light. Consequently, many Barbizon paintings appear bathed in gentle morning and late afternoon glows.
Is Millet The Gleaners a Barbizon painting?
Jean Francois Millet's The Gleaners is a fascinating artwork. While many scholars question Millet’s inclusion as a Barbizon artist, it references many of the crucial concerns of the style.
Millet approaches figures with the same emotion and deep respect as Barbizon artists treated the natural landscapes. In this artwork, he shows three peasant women working the fields. As the poorest members of society, they “glean” for scraps left after the harvest occurred.
This work helped French landowners complete the harvest, ensuring nothing went to waste. The farm owners (and other laborers) are visible in the back of Millet’s painting.
With this unusual composition, Millet shifted the artistic focus away from wealthy individuals towards the lower working classes. He showed their dignity and (often ignored) importance for the functioning of French society. In this way, Millet The Gleaners is an authentic Barbizon painting.
Many of Millet’s other artworks, for instance, The Shepherdess and her Flock (c. 1862) and The Angelus (c.1867), take a similar inspiration.
Why is the Barbizon School important?
Art Historians celebrate the Barbizon School for their beautiful countryside scenes, painted with extreme painterly skill. In addition, they inspired a whole generation of later artists, many of whom founded the Impressionist movement.
After Barbizon painters’ work increased in renown, younger painters traveled to the forest of Fontainebleau. They painted the surrounding landscape, emulating the style of artists such as Millet and Corot. These young artists included famous names such as Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Claude Monet.
The Impressionist movement’s focus on “en plein air” painting, the effects of light, and countryside scenes owe enormous gratitude to Barbizon painters.
In addition, Vincent van Gogh studied and worked with many Barbizon painters in his early career. He particularly respected Jean Francois Millet’s work, producing many copies of his Realism paintings.
Across the Atlantic, Barbizon paintings also influenced developments such as the Hudson River School and the Boston School of Art. Championed by William Morris Hunt, these movements emulated the Barbizon focus on emotional artworks painted in a realistic (yet expressive) style.
Barbizon Painting: Romantic Period Art
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