In leaving the town and his activities as an industrialist, Thiollier did not just move closer to the monuments and landscapes he had undertaken to describe. Having acquired two modest country estates – a hunting lodge near the ponds around Précivet, and the former commandery of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem at Verrières – he also reinvented himself as a gentleman farmer in the heart of this arcadian Forez countryside, which, in his view, was under threat.
Heavily influenced by the example of the Barbizon artists whose paintings he collected along with those of his naturalist painter friends, he never tired of capturing the disappearing traces of traditional skills and ways of life with the eye of a painter. However, it required a certain poetic detachment for photographs to complete this grief. This was usually achieved with the loyal help of his daughter, who appeared in his photographs whenever he wanted to draw attention to the timeless nature of peasant genre scenes.
Although Thiollier had nursed an ambition to become a landscape photographer before he met Ravier in 1873, it is essential to recognise the influence of this painter from Morestel – who had been practising photography since the 1850s – in order to understand why Thiollier moved towards a more committed, if unrevealed, artistic approach to the medium. After many sessions spent "photographicking" together, their shared vision is expressed in the resulting images of autumnal and winter landscapes, which, devoid of any human presence, offer many light-filled variations on the handful of motifs chosen by the painter: still pools or the banks of streams, solitary outlines of dead trees, undergrowth and country paths, it is a complete repertoire of images of the Dauphiné region that stimulated Thiollier's desire to extol the natural beauty of the Forez.
Although he had to include riverscapes and mountain panoramas to reflect the true variety of this beautiful area, he almost always concentrate on the sky and studies of clouds, ideally enhanced by reflections playing on the still water.
The range of effects Thiollier developed, although intended in part to transpose the Post-Romantic lyricism which, in Ravier’s work, was conveyed through blazing colours and highly skilful brush- work, nonetheless indicates that his images of the countryside were produced with a perfect understanding of his medium. In pushing for a rapprochement with contemporary artistic photography, the main feature of his style was thus the expres- siveness of the contrasts in values. It is this preference for representing nature in monochrome that partly explains his liking for snowscapes, and also prompted him to undertake almost systematic research into contre-jour, the most appropriate effect for both synthesizing his motifs and revealing the theatrical aspects of the landscape.
Indeed, the all-revealing clarity of broad daylight was far less of an inspiration to Thiollier than the atmosphere of solitude and silence that came with the dusk. As he often noted in his descriptions, it was when the shadows were at their most dramatic that the countryside cast its strongest spell over him.