Museum Home Past Exhibitions Capturing Nature's Beauty: Three Centuries of French Landscapes

July 28–November 1, 2009 at the Getty Center

Landcape with a Bare Tree /Bonvin
Landscape with a Bare Tree and a Plowman, Léon Bonvin, 1864

This selection of over 40 drawings from the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute highlights key moments in the French landscape tradition, from its emergence in the 1600s to its preeminence in the 1800s.

The exhibition showcases drawings by some of the masters of the genre, including Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent van Gogh.

Together these works reveal a tension between a passion for the real and the quest for an ideal. They demonstrate different facets of the relationship between the artist and the land: from simple record to creative transformation, if not pure invention.

A View of Mountains Across a Lake, Jacques Callot, about 1632


A native of Lorraine, Jacques Callot was the first draftsman of the French school for whom landscape was a major preoccupation.

Bold and clear, delicate and elegant, this drawing exemplifies his contribution to the genre. With black chalk, the artist delicately rendered the details of his composition, and then applied an ink wash with a brush—a technique common in Italy.

The suggestion of space with alternating zones of light and dark reflect the Netherlandish tradition. Callot synthesized these influences, creating a new, truly French, idiom.

Figures in a Landscape before a Harbor / Claude
Figures in a Landscape before a Harbor, Claude Lorrain, late 1630s

Claude Lorrain was the first great French artist to specialize in landscape painting. He has long been celebrated—along with Nicolas Poussin—as the most outstanding exponent of the classical landscape.

Claude's ideal seascapes are among his most admired works. In this imaginary coastal scene, he orchestrated the different elements of his composition—sky, sea, buildings, ships, and figures—into a refined harmony. The setting gave the artist an opportunity to experiment with subtle light effects, such as the sky and the reflections in the water.

Ruins of an Imperial Palace / Fragonard
Ruins of an Imperial Palace, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1759
audio Audio: Curator Lee Hendrix explains how Fragonard created a sense of drama in this landscape.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard made this accomplished drawing while he was a student at the French Academy in Rome. The curriculum was relatively unusual because it actively promoted the practice of sketching outdoors, a sign of landscape's increasingly elevated status as an artistic genre.

In this view of the Palatine Hill as seen from the Roman Forum, the artist adopted a low viewpoint and a wide angle that allowed him to create a bold, forceful composition. Using red chalk, he brilliantly rendered the complex formal interaction between buildings and nature.

Landscape with Chateau Galliard / Boissieu
Landscape with Château Galliard, Jean-Jacques de Boissieu, 1796

Jean-Jacques de Boissieu is best known for his large and delicately washed picturesque views. A trip to Italy inspired his practice of illuminating his compositions with bright sunlight. Yet his palette—dominated by grays—and meticulous attention to detail are reminiscent of earlier Dutch landscape drawings.

This style enabled de Boissieu to work quite independently from the artistic trends of his time, exemplified by the works of Fragonard and Hubert Robert.

The draftsman carefully framed his motif: an abandoned fortified house in Lyon, his native city, perched on a craggy hill and overgrown by nature. While capturing the atmosphere of the locale, Boissieu rendered the variety of textures with a compelling sense of materiality.

View of a Valley in Normandy, Paul Huet, 1825–30

Much influenced by English watercolorists such as J. M. W. Turner, Paul Huet found his favorite motifs in Normandy and the rich atmospheric conditions of the region's ever-changing weather.

"With my imagination struck by the immensity and power of Nature, I would have really wanted to render the grand spectacles that she unrolls continually before our eyes, to express the emotions caused by her mysteries, the charm and melancholy of her depths," he wrote, revealing his doubts about achieving his lifelong ambition. The freedom and sensitivity of his artistic vocabulary anticipated Impressionism by decades.

The Banks of the Marne at Dawn / Dubois-Pillet
The Banks of the Marne at Dawn, Albert Dubois-Pillet, about 1888

A military officer and self-taught artist, Albert Dubois-Pillet was closely associated with the Neo-Impressionists. Led by Georges Seurat, this group of artists moved away from the spontaneity characteristic of the Impressionists and applied color with great discipline.

Informed by scientific color theories, Dubois-Pillet orchestrated a careful layering of small dots and short strokes of varying densities, allowing the eye to blend adjoining units of color and the landscape to take shape. Yet Dubois-Pillet's singular style makes his view of the river Marne appear strikingly abstract against the paper's light tone.

Arles: View from the Wheatfields / van Gogh
Arles: View from the Wheatfields, Vincent van Gogh, 1888
audio Audio: Curator Lee Hendrix describes the variety of dots and strokes in this drawing and what this site looks like today.
learn_more See a detail of the farmers and the view of Arles at the top of the drawing.

While living in southern France, Vincent van Gogh was dazzled by the warm light and exhilarated by the prospect of depicting nature's ally—the farmer—during the seasonal rite of harvest.

In this vertical composition, forms grow smaller and denser as the eye moves up—from a newly cut wheat field to a harvest in progress and finally to the city of Arles in the background.

In full mastery of his pen, Van Gogh created a stunning variety of marks—from long strokes to tiny dots—in golden brown ink. The entire surface thus crackles with the scenery's radiant energy.

Download the illustrated exhibition checklist. (PDF, 245 KB, 8 pp.)
The Roman Fleet by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin
Calm Sea by Willem van de Velde
A Ship in a Port by Pierre Puget
Video: An 18th-century motion picture
Interactive: A walk through the drawing