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Les Glaneuses (Gleaners), by Jean-François Millet (1857, Musée d’Orsay)

You probably remember that after studying in Norway, Carl Larsson spent two years with the plein air French group of artists who called their outdoors group the Barbizon School.

So what is the Barbizon School? 

  • First, Barbizon is or was a village near idyllic Fontainebleau.
  • As for the artists constituting the Barbizon School, who are named below, they were active from approximately 1830 to 1870.
  • The group has affinities with the predominantly English Arts and Crafts movement
  • However, unlike the works of Arts and Crafts movement artists, décor is not a main interest of this group.  They are painting the outdoors.  But Millet made a painting of William Morris.  These artists did not work in isolation. 
  • One coud say that the Barbizon School is also associated with the Pre-Raphaelites, or the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  In both cases, we are dealing with representational artists, but the Barbizon artists were plein air artists, at least to begin with, and their reality was not as idealistic as that of the Pre-Raphaelites. 

However, the group has its antecedents in the works of John Constable (11 June 1776 – 31 March 1837) and it has its common denominator: realism, ranging from an idealized and ethereal rendering of reality to a rugged depiction of that same reality. Moreover, as mentioned above, in its early stage, the group was a plein air group. Their reality was nature in its diversity.  So, initially, authorities were shocked by content of certain works.  Corot, maybe, but cows!

 
For instance, the school incorporates Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot‘s (1796 – 1875)
fairylike portrayal of nature.
 
  
 
Souvenir de Mortefontaine (1864).
(please click on the picture to enlarge it)
 

In fact, when first introduced to the Barbizon school, France’s Director of Fine Arts quickly pronounced that

[t]his is the painting of men who don’t change their linen, who want to intrude themselves upon gentlemen; this art offends and disgusts me. [i]

 

Indeed, Constant Troyon, who is also a member of the group, choses a subject that is elemental.  We are looking at cows.  There is nothing ethereal about cows.  Yet, Troyon’s painting is beautiful.  

 
The Ford, by Constant Troyon
(please click on the picture to enlarge it)
  
 

 

The leaders of the Barbizon School were Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, and Charles-François Daubigny; other members included Jules Dupré, Constant Troyon, Charles Jacque, Narcisse Virgilio Diaz, Pierre Emmanuel Damoye, Charles Olivier de Penne, Henri Harpignies,  (1812–1880), Albert Charpin, Félix Ziem, François-Louis Français, Emile van Marcke, and Alexandre Defaux.

 

This post is no more than a general introduction to a movement and it lists the names of artists connected with the movement.  For the time being, that suffices.

Yet, I will let one of my former teachers formulate a conclusion.  Alan Gowans writes that members of the Barbizon School “continued to behave in the same docile way as those painters who were merely concerned with making the world more Beautiful.” [ii]

 
Les Glaneuses, etching, after 1857
(click on the picture to enlarge it)
To which I would add that neither a movement nor an objective, in our case realism, define an artist’s works.  Reality is subjective.  There are affinities between the Arts and Crafts Movement, the Pre-Raphaelites, the Barbizon school and Carl Larsson.  However, although they enjoy rubbing elbows and share similar goals, artists differ from one another. 
 
      
 
17 Mendelssohn Lieder ohne Worte, Op.38 – No. 5. Agitato in A minor ‘Appassionata’

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[i] Alan Gowans, The Restless Art, A History of Painting 1760-1960 (Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1966), p. 159.

[ii] Alan Gowans, op. cit., p. 162.