The Bellecroix Plateau in France’s Fontainebleau Forest, a favorite artistic locale of Rousseau’s *, was featured several times by the artist in his paintings during the 1840s. In addition to the present work, one other painting of this particular view of the Bellecroix Plateau was created in 1848; Plateau de Bellecroix (11/3/8 x 23 1/8 inches) was on display at the Louvre from 1874 and now resides at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
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. At the age of 13 he was sent to the country, in the Franche-Comte, where he sketched his surroundings at every opportunity. On his return to Paris the following year, his work showed such improvement and promise that his parents allowed him to choose painting as his profession. Encouraged by his family, Rousseau began studying in earnest, primarily at the studio of Jean Char1es Joseph Remond. Even at this early age, Rousseau made frequent excursions in and around Paris 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 debut 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 Richard Parkes Bonington. In 1832, Rousseau traveled extensively in Normandy and Brittany and the following year received his first real public recognition through the purchase of a picture at the Salon by the Duc d’0rleans. During the winter of 1833-1834, he spent his first significant period at Fontainebleau.
Rousseau’s greatest involvement with the Salon occurred between the years of 1834 and 1836. In 1834 he won a third-class medal, and in 1835 two of Rousseau’s sketches were purchased by the Prince de Joinville. Throughout the rest of the decade and into the 1840s, he spent a great deal of time traveling in the French countryside and an increasing part of this time at Barbizon, often with his closest friend, Jules Dupre. During this time, Rousseau exhibited frequently at the Salon des Refuses, becoming a well-known but controversial landscape painter. Rousseau established a permanent studio at Barbizon in 1848, and in June of the following year he met Millet, who had also moved to Barbizon; this would mark the beginning of their lasting friendship.
The Barbizon School was growing in popularity and importance in the early 1850s, in part because of the support of Americans, who were purchasing many of Millet’s works at the Salon. Rousseau’s time at Barbizon was dedicated not only to painting new pictures and reworking old canvases, but also to other pursuits, and he became an accomplished botanist, geologist, and meteorologist.
Initially, Rousseau’s 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 dominates perhaps some of his best known paintings—softer, lighter, and 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 passion—Japanese prints. Rousseau was profoundly interested in the flatness and color of the Japanese works, 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 shared the important concept that man was one with nature along with the Japanese.
By 1865, Rousseau’s fortune was again on the rise despite his failing health. In 1867, at perhaps the height of his popularity and with the favor of Napoleon III, 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.
Museum Collections Include:
Museum of Amsterdam, Netherlands; Bayonne Museum, France; Beaufort Museum; Beziers Museum, France; Boston Museum, MA; Museum of Brussels, Belgium; Chantilly Museum, France; Museum of Copenhagen, Denmark; Detroit Museum, Michigan; Museum of Dijon, France; Glasgow Museum, Scotland; Gratz Museum; Le Havre Museum, France; Lille Museum, France; Wallace Museum, London; Museum of Montpellier, France; Tretiakoff Museum, Russia; Nantes Museum, France; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Nice, France; Louvre, Paris; Vire Museum, France