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Théodore Étienne Pierre Rousseau

* 1812 – † 1867

Paysage panoramique au coucher de soleil (Landscape Panorama at Sunset), 1831–1833

Oil on paper mounted on canvas

Monogrammed at bottom left: TH. R.

Nature held a magical allure for Théodore Rousseau, and he was determined to capture it in all its variety and complexity. His struggle with light, in particular, became a life-long preoccupation, as is borne out by this early work on paper, which was almost certainly painted from nature. The dark foreground is a mode of representation that the artist would return to in later works. Beyond it, however, is a summery landscape that is divided horizontally into narrow fields and rows of trees. The human presence is incidental and no more than hinted at in the tiny staffage figures in the hollow at bottom right. And just as man takes second place to nature, so the landscape seems to take second place to the sky, which lays claim to a little over half the canvas. Close to the line of trees along the horizon it is rendered in glowing shades of yellow – the very same hues as are used alongside a subdued green for the fields in the middle ground. Higher up, however, it changes, nuance by nuance, into a cool blue that perfectly offsets the clouds bathed in orange from the setting sun. Whereas the earth is staggered horizontally, it is the clouds tracing a diagonal arc as they sail across the sky that lend the work its momentum. The painting dating from around 1832 marks the start of an unstoppable development in landscape painting, in which Rousseau was to play a leading role. Just a few years earlier, the then just seventeen-year-old painter had taken a clear stand against the prevailing academic conventions of historicist landscape painting. Although that is what he studied both at the Atelier Rémond,1 which he joined in 1828, and under Guillon-Lethière,2 who was to prepare him for the Prix de Rome,3 the resolute young painter eventually chose not to pursue that goal, preferring instead to roam the countryside of Fontainebleau, the Auvergne and Normandy, and there paint from nature.4 Despite having one or two of his early works accepted for the Salon, after 1835 his paintings were consistently rejected, which was one of the factors that prompted him to move to Barbizon that same year. Only after the February Revolution of 1848 ushered in the Second Republic was the Salon opened to all-comers, whereupon Rousseau, too, became a member.5

During Rousseau’s period of exile from the Salon, the poet, writer and art critic Théophile Gautier wrote of him as follows:6

“Rousseau was rejected (...) he is probably one of our best landscape painters and most certainly one of the audacious and most original. Yet you seem to be afraid of him, Messrs. Bidauld and Victor Bertin?”7

Gautier himself wrote not just reviews and commentaries on the Salon, but also several works on aesthetics. He regularly championed not just Rousseau and the burgeoning Barbizon School, but many Romantic landscape painters as well.8 Our painting is itself testimony to his esteem for the young artist, in that Gautier clearly loved it so much that he made it part of own private collection.

  1. Jean-Charles-Joseph Rémond (1795–1875).

  2. The Neo-Classical painter Guillaume Guillon-Lethière (1760–1832) was a professor at the Paris academy at the time.

  3. The Prix de Rome de paysage historique was inaugurated by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes in 1810. The stipend enabled young painters to travel to Rome to paint, but was tied to the expectation that they would produce the kind of historicist landscapes that were de rigueur at the time.

  4. Schulmann 1999, p. 356.

  5. Ibid, p. 366.

  6. The art critic Pierre Jules Théophile Gautier (1811–1872) was commissioned with numerous articles for LʼArtiste, Le Moniteur and La Press.

  7. Exh. cat. Corot, Courbet and the Barbizon painters. ”Les amis de la nature,” Haus der Kunst Munich 1996, Munich 1996, p. 35.

  8. Ibid, p. 35.

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