Henri-Joseph Harpignies was one of the leading French landscape painters of the second half of the nineteenth century. Born into a prosperous middle class family, he was a precocious draughtsman and received elementary art training at the municipal school of his native Valenciennes. But it was not until 1846 when the twenty-seven year old entered the Paris studio of the landscape painter and etcher Jean-Alexis Achard, that Harpignies finally undertook more formal training to become an artist. Despite his relatively late start, Harpignies enjoyed a long and successful career and produced a large body of work that included paintings and watercolors as well as etchings, drypoints, and a small number of lithographs depicting rural subjects. Landscape remained his primary focus.
Harpignies was profoundly influenced by the realism of the Barbizon school, Gustave Courbet, and Charles-François Daubigny, and later by the impressionists. He took a middle road in the artistic disputes of the day and painted fresh views of nature, often executed out of doors, which had a wide appeal. In a sense he popularized the realist style of some of his more radical contemporaries, modifying and adapting their free execution for a large public audience that greatly admired his powerful yet lyrical compositions.
Landscape in Auvergne is a typical example of Harpignies’ landscapes: its handling is free and painterly, and it conveys a sense of the outdoors with the play of light. The golden and russet tones of the foliage are suggestive of a crisp autumn afternoon. The specific site depicted has not yet been identified, though it is almost certainly somewhere in the environs of the village of Hérisson in the Auvergne region, with the nearby Aumance river winding across the picture’s foreground. Harpignies was stationed there while serving as a member of the Garde Nationale during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the year this painting was executed. He developed a great fondness for this locale and passed his summers there for the remainder of the decade, producing a number of striking paintings of the region, including his Ruins of the Chateau of Hérisson (Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum). Exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1872, it employs a similarly panoramic viewpoint that evokes grandeur of the site and endows the resulting landscape with a sense of vast, open space.
The Gallery owns a number of works on paper by this artist, including a fine charcoal and three excellent watercolors, as well as two rare prints but only one painting, a landscape painted late in the artist’s career. Landscape in Auvergne, which was executed at the height of Harpignies’ powers, is an admirable complement to our holdings of realist and Barbizon paintings. The painting has been given to the Gallery by Ruth Carter Stevenson in honor of Philip Conisbee.
lower right: hjharpignies.70.
Ruth Carter Stevenson [Mrs. John R. Stevenson], Fort Worth; gift 2008 to NGA.
- Jones, Kimberly. "Henri-Joseph Harpignies, Landscape in Auvergne." Bulletin / National Gallery of Art, no. 41 (Fall 2009): 21-22, repro.