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 Theodore Rousseau  (1812 - 1867)

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Lived/Active: France      Known for: tree landscape painting-primitive style

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from Auction House Records.
Ferme dans les Landes (la maison du garde)
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

The following was written and submitted by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California:

Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau was born in Paris, France in 1812.  He first studied under Saint Martin, Remond and Guillon-Lethiere.  The work he exhibited at the Salon in 1834-35 and 1838, showed a surprising deviation from the tastes of the time.  The following year his painting was rejected by the Salon because of its lack of Classical interest, and he took himself off to the village of Barbizon in the Fontainebleau Forest, where he worked on the Romantic landscapes which have made him famous.

Rousseau's official success came after the Revolution of 1848.  In 1849 his pictures were once more shown in the Salon, and with noteworthy success.  He became a central figure of the Barbizon School; during this time he became close friends with Millet.  In 1852 he was awarded the Legion of Honor.  He painted with an exacting sense of detail and with a minute accuracy which betrayed the influence of the Dutch masters, Ruisdael and Hobbema. Rousseau died in 1867.

Sources include:
Masterpieces of Art, Catalogue of the New York World's Fair 1940
Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Arts, edited by John Julius Norwich

Biography from Anderson Galleries, Inc.:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Theodore Rousseau was born on April 15, 1812.  His parents, who recognized their son's interest in nature and art and did their best to encourage it, were part of the rising successful merchant class.  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, 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 Paris.  Like many Barbizon artists, Rousseau spent a great deal of time in the Louvre copying the Dutch 17th century landscape artists and traveled to Fontainebleau.

In 1831, he exhibited his first painting at the Salon, a landscape from his recent trip to the Auvergne.  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.  In 1833, Rousseau received his first real public recognition through the purchase of a picture at the Salon by the Duc d'Orleans.  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. In June of the following year he met Millet, who had also moved to Barbizon; this would mark the beginning of their lasting friendship.

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

Biography from South Coast Fine Art:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Born in Paris, Théodore Rousseau seems to have been initially stimulated to paint landscapes by a cousin.  The example of Dutch painting supplemented the formal instruction that Rousseau received from minor artists of his own time.  A precocious artist who was painting from nature at the age of 15, he combined an analytical eye with a romantic heart.

Made controversial by his non-classical bias, Rousseau was not able to exhibit at the Salon between 1837 and 1847.  By that time he had settled at Barbizon, where he exploited the pictorial and "moral" qualities of oak trees and sunlight.  At the same time, fine drawings such as Country Road with Poplars (1830-1840) reveal how sensitively he could interpret a flat, featureless plain like those of Berry, where he worked in the 1840s.

In spite of the fact that Rousseau did not show at the Salon for many years, he was widely acclaimed as a landscape artist.  In the 1845 Salon the poet and critic Charles Baudelaire even went so far as to maintain that Rousseau was superior to Camille Corot.  In 1864, however, Baudelaire modified his enthusiasm and remarked that the artist showed "too much love for detail, not enough for the architecture of nature."

Luminosity, which Rousseau considered the "great secret" of nature, is very much in evidence as early as 1842, when he painted The Lowland Marsh in surprisingly high-keyed, dramatically contrasted tones. The intensity of his response to nature is reflected repeatedly in active, dynamic scenes such as Storm Effect and Road in the Forest of Fontainebleau (1860-1865).

Rousseau's fundamentally romantic spirit is well expressed in one of his own statements: "I also heard the voices of the trees … whose passions I uncovered. I wanted to talk with them … and put my finger on the secret of their majesty."

Dependent though he was on Dutch and, to lesser degree, on English painting, Rousseau was also inspired directly by nature, as were his successors, the impressionists.  Like them, he put a particular emphasis on light, but on a light that has a more symbolic and a less naturalistic character.

Biography from Roger King Fine Art, Q - Z:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Theodore Rousseau was born in Paris and studied painting with his uncle, Pierre-Alexandre Pau de Saint Martin.  The two worked outdoors at Compiegne, where Rousseau learned by copying his uncle's work, a habit that would have a profound influence on his own artwork.  For a time he worked as a bookkeeper, continuing his painting studies with figure painter Jean-Claude Remond and at the atelier of portrait painter Guillaume Guillon-Lethiere.  Nevertheless, Rousseau had already established his own style and did not care for the instruction of either teacher. Rousseau did not meet with widespread acceptance at the French Academy, and though he was accepted into the Salon in 1831 at age nineteen, his work was frequently rejected for exhibition. In frustration, he exhibited at a colleague's studio, a then-unheard-of practice. Lacking the Academy's support, Rousseau found it difficult to secure patronage.

After the Revolution of 1848, official tastes changed somewhat and Rousseau was finally named to an official committee at the Academy and received a state commission. In 1852 he was named a Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. He was the first artist to live and work in Barbizon, where he was joined by his colleague Jean-Francois Millet. Rousseau became obsessed with painting light and color, trying novel techniques and often obsessively re-working his canvases. His work at this time baffled the public and critics alike. He exhibited at the Exposition Universelle in 1855 and was elected to its jury in 1866. Rousseau was elevated to the position of Chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur in 1867, but the recognition was sadly belated, coming at the end of his career when he was ill with a series of debilitating strokes. Though his successes were hard-won, ultimately Rousseau had a profound influence on 19th century painting, becoming known as "the father of the Barbizon School."


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