Born in 1811 in Nantes, Jules Dupré spent his boyhood in L'Isle-Adam on the Oise river, near Paris. Here he had his early initiation to art, as an apprentice decorator of porcelain in his father's china works. At the age of twelve, he was sent to Paris, to work in the porcelain factory of an uncle, Arsène Gillet. His fellow workers included several young artists who would play a role in his later life, among them Narcisse Diaz de la Peña (1808-1876). Though during his early years in Paris, Dupré briefly studied with a painter of landscape, Jean-Michel Diebolt (b. 1779), he started on his artistic career nearly without formal training. Self-directed nature study in 1827 took him into the countryside around Limoges, where his father had meanwhile found employment. Settled in Paris from 1829, he frequented the Louvre's galleries, receiving lasting impressions of Claude Lorrain and the Dutch landscapists.
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) were among the artists of a slightly earlier, romantic generation whose company he sought. A benefit exhibition held in Paris in 1830 for the wounded of the July Revolution gave him his first chance to appear before the public. In the following years, the artists who were to form the School of Barbizon, then still in their early twenties, gradually drew together. With Constant Troyon (1810-1865) and Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), soon to become a close friend, Dupré went sketching in the region around Paris and in the countrysides of Berry, Auvergne, and Normandy. Sometime between 1831 and 1834 he visited England, sketched at Southampton, and saw paintings by John Constable (1776-1837). During the 1830s he regularly exhibited at the Salons but abstained in the 1840s, perhaps in solidarity with Rousseau, who was being excluded by the juries. Introduced by Rousseau to the forest of Fontainebleau, Dupré never became one of its frequenters, preferring to paint in the sparsely wooded plains along the Oise near L'Isle-Adam. But he frequently traveled and worked with Rousseau and at times shared his studio with his friend. Their association and mutual influence, very close in 1843 and 1844 when they painted together in the plains of the Landes along the foothills of the Pyrenees, suffered a break in 1848, started by gossip about Rousseau's fiancée (the adopted daughter of George Sand) and made irreparable in 1849 by Rousseau's pique at Dupré's election to the Legion of Honor.
From 1850 onward Dupré made his home at L'Isle-Adam, in growing solitude, though still maintaining ties to Troyon, Daubigny, and Corot. The forest of Compiègne was now his favorite sketching ground. Yearly summer vacations at Cailleux-sur-Mer on the Norman coast, in 1865-1870, offered him a striking change of scene and produced a series of seascapes. Formerly accustomed to spending his winters in Paris, Dupré rarely left L'Isle-Adam in the nine years before his death.
For all his immersion in nature, he was a stylist, highly selective in his choice of motifs, less interested in the immediate, fleeting appearance of landscape in changing light and atmosphere than
in its enduring material existence, its character, arid its emotional suggestion. The studies he gathered out-of-doors served him only as the beginnings in a slow process of revision, transformation, and repetition carried out in the studio. Thus landscapes first conceived in the 1840s might remain on his hands for years, to be finished in the 1860s or 1870s, having meanwhile undergone the changes of his evolving style. [This is the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Claretie, J. Jules Dupré (Les Hommes du jour). Paris, 1879.
Vente, Atelier Dupré. Sale catalogue, Georges Petit, Paris, 30 January 1890.
Aubrun, Marie-Madeleine. Jules Dupré, 1811-1889. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, dessiné, et gravé. Paris, 1974.
Jules Dupré, 1811-1889. Exh. cat. The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, Memphis, 1979.
Aubrun, Marie-Madeleine. Jules Dupré, 1811-1889. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, dessiné, et gravé. Supplement. Nantes, 1982.
Eitner, Lorenz. French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2000: 241-242.