DETAIL : Joseph-D�sir� COURT born Rouen 1797 � Paris 1865 Woman Lying on a Divan 1829 Painting Oil on canvas
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Landscape painting in France from Neoclassicism to Impressionism

Nineteenth-Century Romanticism and Landscape

In the academic hierarchy of 18th-century art, landscape painting was considered a relatively minor category in comparison to history, portrait and genre painting. This situation gradually changed at the end of the century when the Neo-classical landscape painters entered the scene and introduced the so-called ‘historical landscape’, a genre relying strongly on the classical landscape tradition introduced in the 17th century.

After 1810 the genre of the historical landscape came to be seen as an important mode of painting. Many of the artists painting historical landscapes were winners of the Prix de Rome for historical landscape, a prize introduced in 1817 by the Académie to enable young landscape painters to study in Italy. Both Achille-Etna Michallon and Jean-Charles-Joseph Rémond received the distinction and travelled to Italy to undertake intensive study of the countryside.

The work of these artists helps us to understand the evolution from the carefully composed Neo-classical landscape to a more individualised treatment of nature, often as a result of travels, voyages and scientific expeditions throughout Europe and, more so, in North Africa, Turkey and the Orient. These journeys resulted in sketches, open-air studies and paintings of exotic or erotic subjects.

This enlarged view of the world coincided with the emergence in the early 19th century of Romanticism, a movement that recognised the importance of personal emotion and of propagating an individual artistic approach while relying strongly on literature, philosophy and history. Eugène Delacroix and Eugène Isabey are each significant Romantic painters, since both embraced the ideal of expressing feelings and moods and encouraged connections between different art forms and world cultures in an individual way.

From the 1830s on, French painters tended to favour landscape painting that was closer to nature and less anecdotal or classical than the works of Neo-classical and Romantic artists. Critics of the day often used the term Naturalism to describe the landscapes of the BarbizonSchool, since these works were painted in the open air in the Forest of Fontainebleau to the south of Paris, and were considered authentic portrayals of nature.

The new interest in landscape painting, practised by the painters Camille Corot, Paul Huet and Théodore Rousseau, arose from a variety of sources. A sense of a shared national past encouraged artists to work around the Forest of Fontainebleau, a place untouched by culture and industrialisation.

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