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Barbizon, the Fine Art village

4 janvier 2017

As a prelude to Impressionism, the artists of Barbizon paintings changed the tradition of the historical landscape realized inside a workshop. More surprising, these painters were influential avant-garde ecologists.

1200 inhabitants, 35 000 tourists

About sixty kilometers at the south-east of Paris, at the edge of the trees of the forest of Fontainebleau, proudly stands Barbizon. In the heart of the Seine-et-Marne, this small village of 1200 inhabitants could be peaceful and anonymous like its neighbors Saint-Martin-en-Bière, Chailly-en-Bière or Cély. But Barbizon is not made of this wood. Every year, not less than 35,000 tourists are walking through the streets. We speak Japanese here, English there and the passports on the night tables of the rooms are German, Dutch, Russian, American, Chinese or even Brazilian. Formerly inhabited by farmers, charcoal burners and woodcutters, Barbizon has acquired its international reputation by becoming, in the nineteenth century, the cradle of an Art Nouveau: the landscape.


In 1830, as the cities grew larger, get draped with pollution, the roads began to sift the forests and the factories to dry up the rivers, the bourgeoisie entered to an era of all power. The appearance of the movement of landscape in French painting at that time constitutes a phenomenon of a power still unsuspected. In the academic tradition, the study and analysis of nature is only a simple stage considered inferior to intellectual experience and the landscape is a minor one. The instigators of this innovative Art flee these new urban monsters of concrete and steam to seek to flourish calmly in nature. Rejecting gradually the bourgeois academicism and the artistic criteria fixed around the neoclassical tradition, these artists find infinite sources of inspiration in the Dutch landscape painting of the seventeenth century and in the contemporary English landscape.

At the beginning of Impressionnism

While its founding members were all extinguished, the term “Barbizon School” appeared a posteriori in the 1890s in the work of Scottish art critic David Croal Thompson entitled The Barbizon School of Painters. In reality, there has never been a school in Barbizon, but a group of painters of various styles and different techniques who came together between 1830 and 1875 near the forest of Fontainebleau. Without doctrine, without theory, rejecting as a whole the academicism of a painting considered fixed, Barbizon's painters benefited from the evolution of techniques to express themselves in the open air. The invention of the pewter tubes, marketed in France since 1840, offers painters the possibility of a freer nature approach and travel outside their workshops.

(Hameau Cousin, Jean-François Millet, 1854)

(Forêt de Fontainebleau, Narcisse Diaz de la Pena, 1867)

The most famous painters of the current are Theodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot and Charles-François Daubigny. Settled in the “Auberge Ganne”, converted in 1995 into a museum of the Barbizon School, most of them are excluded or rejected from the Salon. Applied to reproduce the splendours and reflections of nature, inextricably linked to the eternal efforts of man against this earth. The men of Barbizon painted the accidental and unpredictable beauty of the forest and its trees tortured by time, or the peculiar beauty of the sufferings of the worker of the earth. Too bucolic, too many trees, too many sunsets, they returned the painting to the Neolithic of modernity. But, by abandoning idealization to the benefit of sensation, Rousseau and his companions certainly influenced the future Impressionist group. By opposing resistance to the tattering of French forests, Barbizon's painters set themselves up as influential ecologists before the hour.

In defense of the green museum

Too much sky and above all too much importance given to the trees. In 1836, the young Theodore Rousseau sees his last painting refused by the jury of the Salon. Lovers of these branches especially if they are sinuous, of these trunks especially if they are tortured and of those foliage, the young painter leaves Paris and breaks with academicism by settling in front of the forest of Fontainebleau. At the same time, Achille Marrier of Bois d'Hyver, inspector of the General Administration of the forests of his state, gets the suit. His mission is to renovate French forests according to the standards imposed by the young National School of Water and Forests of Nancy. To destroy the old forests, cut down the trees too old and fill the moors by planting conifers. The industrial revolution is in full swing and timber is not to be missed. Fontainebleau, its 25,000 hectares and especially its tortuous old oaks, has nothing of the ideal forest for Bois d'Hyver and he must attack them. But for Théodore Rousseau and his companions, these ancient oaks and sparkling rocks are the equivalent of the "models left to us by Michelangelo, Raphael and Rembrand". In the name of this green museum, the painters of Barbizon will go into resistance to save these last oases of natural forest.

(Paysage de forêt, Théodore Rousseau, 1850)

In 1853, they get the off-putting of nearly 624 hectares. Becoming an influential lobbyist, Théodore Rousseau took advantage of his success and of the recognition of his art, the interiors of the forest expose themselves by dozens to the Salon, to receive the support of important personalities, Théophile Gautier at the head. Thanks to his new relationships, he learned with pleasure that nearly 1000 hectares of Fontainebleau were "removed from any development" by creating "sites for artistic purposes" by the decree of 13 August 1861. Saved, the old Tillaie forests, Gros-Fouteau, Chêne-Brûlé or Sales-à-la-Reine! The death of Theodore Rousseau in 1867 saw Michelet, George Sand or even Victor Hugo turn campaigning against theses announced destructions. Hugo will argue that "A tree is a building, a forest is a city, and among all the forests, the forest of Fontainebleau is a monument. Which the centuries have built, men must not destroy." But as often, artistic or scientific interest will not be enough to not have these zones declassified or to divert the A6 motorway, nor the national N7. If the future of the forest of Fontainebleau remains forever uncertain, its past is eternally marked by these painters who revolutionized their Art but also and especially their society.

Barbizon & Frédéric Thiéry : Love at first sight

As his father was a painter himself, Frédéric Thiéry was interested in drawing and painting from his early age. After numerous experiments in Spain or in the south of France, Frédéric Thiéry made a decisive encounter with an art collector in the early 2000s. This person made him discover the Barbizon school and the masters of the Provençal schools. Frédéric had a brain wave and decided to bring his touch of modernity. With an ounce of abstraction, its bright colors energize its representations of streets, ports or beaches.