Théodore Rousseau was one of the greatest landscape artists of the 19th century. With a Romantic background, he spent his life trying to pierce the mysteries of nature which he constantly observed and scrutinised in its tiniest details.
This landscape, sometimes called The Green Avenue or Avenue des Bonshommes, the title under which it was shown in the Salon of 1849, was painted entirely on the spot, which was unusual in Rousseau's work. Indeed he liked to spend hours observing, drawing and sometimes painting from nature – a leaf, a tree, a real landscape – but always reworked his canvases in his studio.
Here, he was staying at L'Isle-Adam with his friend Jules Dupré and worked on this canvas throughout the spring of 1846, before returning to complete it in the following two years. Permanent dissatisfaction and the fear of being yet again rejected by the Salon explain the endless retouching. Rousseau tried not only to represent an avenue as a photographer might do, but to catch the vertical light of noon in summer, the hardest light for a painter to catch, which literally crushes things. This difficult attempt, one of the first in French painting, reached its apogee in Oak Trees at Apremont in the Louvre.