Théodore Rousseau

Dates1812 - 1867

From his boyhood, Théodore Rousseau passionately loved nature. He trained with academic landscapists, but his insistence on "keep[ing] in mind the virgin impression of nature" and painting pure landscape without a mythological theme earned him the hostility of France's academic establishment, making him both famous and poor. His unswerving determination to paint pure landscapes directly from nature paved the way for the Impressionists.

After exhibiting at the Salon in the early 1830s, a rejection in 1836 dismayed him and he left for the village of Barbizon in Fontainebleau forest. There he spent his summers, joined by Jean-François Millet and others who became known as the Barbizon School.

Rousseau unified his compositions with muted tones and created rhythm through use of dark and light areas. His sincere, meticulous renderings seem to demonstrate his assertion that he made portraits of the trees and listened to their voices. Though he had detested his academic training, he never discarded one of its basic tenets: he considered his outdoor paintings to be merely sketches, preludes for the final paintings he worked up in his Paris studio each winter.

When the 1841 Salon jury refused a painting that had already been purchased by the government, Rousseau quit submitting. After the Revolution of 1848, his fortunes changed again, and he gained an international reputation.