Theodore Rousseau

French, 1812 - 1867
He was born on April, 15, 1812, and when Jean-Francois Millet became the painter of country works and intimist scenes of the farm from his arrival in Barbizon, Theodore Rousseau was the one of clusters of tall trees and glades in the forest. Though he was called "the perpetual refused of the salons" he was more famous than Millet when he settled in Barbizon around 1844. The friendship between Theodore Rousseau and Jean-Francois Millet was proverbial. Their connection was warm, absolute and boundless. They shared a mutual esteem and each one regarded the other as a highly talented painter if not a master. Theodore Rousseau, with a fraternity peculiar to elders, brought a constant help to his friend who was two years younger. How different these two men were! Theodore Rousseau was smart, moved in the fashionable salons of the capital city whereas the hermit of Barbizon fled society and preferred "the silence that could be enjoyed so thoroughly either in the forests or in the plowed fields". Wasn't it said that Rousseau had come to Barbizon to forget his sorrow after an abortive marriage to George Sand's niece? And he could not find any support from Elisa Gros, his companion who was to become a lunatic. Theodore Rousseau was a contemplator and said: "he who lives in silence becomes the center of the world". He was the outstanding painter of light, and the lights of his forests at each hour of the day paved the way for the impressionists who would soon succeed the Barbizonian landscape painters. "Luncheon on the grass", executed by Claude Monet in Chailly-en-Biere in 1866, would be another forewarning. Rousseau was also the leader of nature's ardent supporters "a druid who likes nothing but his dogs" Barbey d'Aurevilly said. The first sanctuary in Fontainebleau forest was created on a petition to Napoleon III, who had then his dwellings in Compiegne, and was intended for "the sole pleasure of the stroller and the artist". Like all his contemporaries, Theodore Rousseau used to write a lot and the hundreds of letters he exchanged with Jean-Francois Millet give a precious account of their unfailing friendship together with their lives as painters in Barbizon. And Jean-Francois Millet ended his letters in a style that was peculiar to him: "I say hello to you, my dear Rousseau, and I strongly shake your hand a thousand times". Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries,
Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau was born on April 15, 1812. His parents were part of the rising successful merchant class, who recognized their son's interest in nature and art and did their best to encourage it. As a young boy, Rousseau spent a great deal of time in the Bois de Boulogne, and at the age of thirteen was sent to the country, in the Franche-Comte, where he sketched his surroundings at every opportunity.

Encouraged by his family, Rousseau began studying in earnest, primarily at the studio of Jean Charles Joseph Remond. Even at this early age, Rousseau made frequent excursions in and around Pans including Fontainebleau. Like many Barbizon artists, Rousseau spent a great deal of time in the Louvre copying the Dutch 17th century landscape artists. He also exhibited his first painting at the Salon of 1831. This painting, a landscape from his recent trip to the Avergne, hung high on the wall of the Salon and received only slight and scattered praise.

Rousseau spent the next year on the Normandy Coast with several other artists, including Paul Huet, the predominant landscape artist of the time. Huet exerted a strong influence on Rousseau, and encouraged his young pupil to draw directly from nature.

It was in the 1830s that Rousseau became acutely aware of the English romantic painters, especially John Constable and landscapes were somewhat hard and severe. They were often rocky and dark and frequently set within the forest. These pictures were eventually supplanted by the style that predominates perhaps some of his best known paintings. The pictures became softer, lighter, and were generally considered more Romantic.

Though success had followed Rousseau from the end of the 1840s, by the late 1850s his fortunes began to decline. He was spending most of his money to purchase Old Master prints by German and Dutch masters, most notably Durer and Van de Velde, as well as on his new found passionJapanese prints. Rousseau was profoundly interested in their flatness and color, and he immediately set about repainting old canvases and beginning new ones. His pictures from this period show a great flatness and a sense of Oriental atmosphere in color.

It has also been suggested that the influence of Japanese art was not only of visual importance for Rousseau, but that he, as the Japanese, shared the important concept that man was one with nature.

By 1865, Rousseau's fortune was again on the rise, though his health was failing. In 1867, at perhaps the height of his popularity and with the favor of Napoleon 111, Rousseau became the head of an international jury at the Universal Exhibition. In the same year, a major exhibition of his work was held, but by this time Rousseau's health was deteriorating rapidly and Millet cared for him until his death on December 22, 1867.

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries,
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