The Forest of Fontainebleau. A Life-Sized Studio. From Corot to Picasso
De Corot à Picasso.
The Forest of Fontainebleau occupies a central place in the history of 19th century art. Bruandet, a pioneer of painting from nature, moved there at the end of the 18th century. A few years later he was followed by Bidauld, Aligny, Desgoffe, Brascassat and notably Corot who would go there when returning from Rome or en route to Italy.
In 1853, Theodore Rousseau came to stay in Barbizon, and was later buried in this forest where he had made his first studies in 1829. There he would draw, sketch and paint, “exploring the visible”, subsequently attracting Diaz, Troyon, Dupré, Charles Jacque and Millet – a whole generation who would radically transform landscape painting. It was there they searched out their motif: trees, rocks, sands and marshes, chosen from a relatively limited number of sites, which the early tourists would identify, classify and rank.
They were soon joined by the pioneers of photography, Le Gray, Cuvelier and Balagny, in search of an open-air studio.
Around 1860, Charles Gleyre sent his pupils there to do their first technical exercises: Renoir, Sisley, Bazille accompanied by Monet who worked there on what would become the manifesto of modern life: Le déjeuner sur l’Herbe. Foreign artists used to make an obligatory stop there on their tour of France or Europe; in short, the Forest of Fontainebleau, which had been discovered by the Romantic writers in the 1820s, became a fashionable location and, for painters, it offered a magnificent, life size studio, which would be visited again by Redon, Seurat, Derain and Picasso in 1921.
But why was it so popular and for such a long period of time? The answer to this question can be summed up in one sentence: the Forest of Fontainebleau, with its varied landscapes, where in a few steps, one can move from dark forest to the blinding light of sand, from gorges and menacing rocks to the peaceful spectacle of a silvery pond, encapsulates all forests, “The forests of dreams and of life. All of them”.
It is hardly surprising that it should have fed the imagination of so many artists, for whom the forest represented Gaul, Alsace, Bohemia or even Judea or the Pampas. This “epitome of all sites” would also encourage emerging cinematographers, whose aesthetic to a large extent draws on that of the history of painting, to film there, as with the Life and Passion of Christ (Alice Guy, 1906) and Ninety three (Albert Capellani and André Antoine, 1920).
This exhibition presents a meaningful choice of paintings, drawings, photographs and films made in or inspired by this forest, whose presence radiates through all forms of 19th century art.