• Sous Bois, n.d.
    Théodore Rousseau (French, 1812-1867)

One of the 19th-century’s most skilled landscape painters, Théodore Rousseau was born in Paris to an upper-middleclass family. While learning the family business, he became increasingly enamored of painting. Despite an initial conflict when the young man wanted to change careers, Rousseau’s family later became great supporters of his art.

Rousseau’s romanticism, with its emphasis on nature and emotion, contrasted greatly with the classicizing history painting of the French Academy. His paintings were rejected so often by the hanging committee for the Academy’s annual Salon that he became known as le grand refusé. Patrons in England and the United States were more appreciative of his work, and thus he considered leaving France late in life. In 1853, Rousseau’s rejected paintings were hung together in the Exposition Universelle and garnered some critical acclaim.

Rousseau was part of the group of painters known as the Barbizon school, whose paintings gained widespread acceptance by the 1860s. These artists were especially active and shared resources and ideas as they worked in the forest near the village of Fontainebleau. Rousseau was especially close to his fellow Barbizon painter Jean-François Millet, who cared for him in his last illness in 1867. In this drawing from the late 1850s, Rousseau employs the crayon in gestural, jagged lines to capture the action of light in trees along a riverbank.

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