This painting illustrates very well how the plein air painters worked, in that it shows an utterly unspectacular, almost banal snapshot of an artist sitting on a stool in the Forest of Fontainebleau, blithely sketching away while above him ominous storm clouds are gathering. Some other visitors to the forest have already sought shelter under a huge tree; the painter alone remains blissfully unaware of the drama unfolding – so absorbed is he with capturing this uniquely atmospheric moment, at least in a hasty sketch.
Rousseau executed his first work en plein air in the Forest of Fontainebleau in 1831/32, and by doing so opened up a new sub-genre, the paysage intime, which thus counts as an original invention of his. The artists of the Barbizon School with their simple, authentic, and intimate depictions of nature were among those to resist the traditional idealized landscapes favoured by the Salon. Yet our painting provides a good example of more than just a paysage intime; it also demonstrates how mood, atmosphere, and weather conditions might be instrumentalized to visualize nature in all its many permutations. Because the Barbizon painters’ travels are so well documented, we know that they were especially attracted to regions such as the Auvergne and Normandy, where sudden changes of weather are a common occurrence. Rousseau often visited Barbizon, preferably in the winter months and often in the company of fellow artists such as Diaz1 or Aligny,2 although he did not move there permanently until 1848.
The painting has been viewed by the Comité Rousseau and found to be genuine.