Romanticism to Modern Art - Barbizon School

Movement: Romanticism to Modern Art - Barbizon School
Dates: 1830 - 1870

The Barbizon school of painters were part of an art movement towards Realism in art, which arose in the context of the dominant Romantic Movement of the time. The Barbizon school was active roughly from 1830 through 1870. It takes its name from the village of Barbizon, France, on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau, where many of the artists gathered. Most of their works were landscape painting, but several of them also painted landscapes with farmworkers, and genre scenes of village life. Some of the most prominent features of this school are its tonal qualities, color, loose brushwork, and softness of form.

The leaders of the Barbizon school were: Thodore Rousseau, Charles-Franois Daubigny, Jules Dupr, Constant Troyon, Charles Jacque, and Narcisse Virgilio Daz. Jean-Franois Millet lived in Barbizon from 1849, but his interest in figures with a landscape backdrop sets him rather apart from the others. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was the earliest on the scene, first painting in the forest in 1829, but "his work has a poetic and literary quality which sets him somewhat apart". Other artists associated with the school, often pupils of the main group, include: Henri Harpignies, Albert Charpin, Franois-Louis Franais, and mile van Marcke.

Many of the artists were also printmakers, mostly in etching but the group also provided the bulk of the artists using the semiphotographic clich verre technique. The French etching revival began with the school, in the 1850s.


In 1824 the Salon de Paris exhibited works of John Constable, an English painter. His rural scenes influenced some of the younger artists of the time, moving them to abandon formalism and to draw inspiration directly from nature. Natural scenes became the subjects of their paintings rather than mere backdrops to dramatic events. During the Revolutions of 1848 artists gathered at Barbizon to follow Constable's ideas, making nature the subject of their paintings. The French landscape became a major theme of the Barbizon painters.

Millet extended the idea from landscape to figures peasant figures, scenes of peasant life, and work in the fields. In The Gleaners (1857), for example, Millet portrays three peasant women working at the harvest. Gleaners are poor people who are permitted to gather the remains after the owners of the field complete the main harvest. The owners (portrayed as wealthy) and their laborers are seen in the back of the painting. Millet shifted the focus and the subject matter from the rich and prominent to those at the bottom of the social ladders. To emphasize their anonymity and marginalized position, he hid their faces. The women's bowed bodies represent their everyday hard work.

In the spring of 1829, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot came to Barbizon to paint in the Forest of Fontainebleau, he had first painted in the forest at Chailly in 1822. He returned to Barbizon in the autumn of 1830 and in the summer of 1831, where he made drawings and oil studies, from which he made a painting intended for the Salon of 1830; "View of the Forest of Fontainebleau'" (now in the National Gallery in Washington) and, for the salon of 1831, another "View of the Forest of Fontainebleau"'. While there he met the members of the Barbizon school: Thodore Rousseau, Paul Huet, Constant Troyon, Jean-Franois Millet, and the young Charles-Franois Daubigny.

During the late 1860s, the Barbizon painters attracted the attention of a younger generation of French artists studying in Paris. Several of those artists visited Fontainebleau Forest to paint the landscape, including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Frdric Bazille. In the 1870s those artists, among others, developed the art movement called Impressionism and practiced plein air painting. In contrast, the main members of the school made drawings and sketches on the spot, but painted back in their studios.

The Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh studied and copied several of the Barbizon painters as well, including 21 copies of paintings by Millet. He copied Millet more than any other artist. He also did three paintings in Daubigny's Garden.

Both Thodore Rousseau (1867) and Jean-Franois Millet (1875) died at Barbizon.

Influence in Europe

Painters in other countries were also influenced by this art. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, many artists came to Paris from Austria-Hungary to study the new movements. For instance, the Hungarian painter Jnos Thorma studied in Paris as a young man. In 1896 he was one of the founders of the Nagybnya artists' colony in what is now Baia Mare, Romania, which brought impressionism to Hungary. In 2013 the Hungarian National Gallery opens a major retrospective of his work, entitled, ''Jnos Thorma, the Painter of the Hungarian Barbizon, 8 February - 19 May 2013, Hungarian National Gallery

Karl Bodmer, originally Swiss, settled in Barbizon in 1849. Lszl Pal, another Hungarian, lived in Barbizon in the 1870s.

Influence in America

The Barbizon painters also had a profound impact on landscape painting in the United States. This included the development of the American Barbizon school by William Morris Hunt. Several artists who were also in, or contemporary to, the Hudson River School studied Barbizon paintings for their loose brushwork and emotional impact. A notable example is George Inness, who sought to emulate the works of Rousseau. Paintings from the Barbizon school also influenced landscape painting in California. The artist Percy Gray carefully studied works by Rousseau and other painters which he saw in traveling exhibitions to inform his own paintings of California hills and coastline. The influence of the Barbizon painters may be seen in the extraordinary sporting dog paintings of Percival Rosseau (1859-1937), who grew up in Louisiana and studied at the Academie Julien.


  • Osborne, Harold (ed), The Oxford Companion to Art, 1970, OUP, ISBN019866107X

Suggested sources

  • Catalogues des Collections des Musees de France. Ministre de la culture. (Catalogs of Collections of Museums of France. Ministry of Culture.)

External links

  • Media related to Barbizon School at Wikimedia Commons
  • Hecht Museum
  • Cambridge Art Gallery

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