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The ruins of a crenellated, round, stone tower sitting on gently sloping hills are silhouetted against a pale peach-colored sky in this horizontal landscape painting. Two deep green cypress trees lean against the mottled golden brown and rust-colored walls of the tower. To our left of the tower and slightly overlapping it, a high, charcoal-gray wall is also crenelated and in ruins. The land drops gently to the lower right corner. The low grasses in the field are straw and mustard yellow, with occasional patches of moss green. A person, loosely painted, stands on a low rise facing away from us, holding a tall staff, close to the tower. Several touches of tawny brown beyond suggest sheep grazing in the meadow. Silver, rose-pink, and cream-white clouds sweep across the sky high above the ruins. The scene is loosely painted with visible brushstrokes, especially in the hills and tower.

Léon-François-Antoine Fleury, The Tomb of Caecilia Metella, c. 1830, oil on canvas, Gift of Frank Anderson Trapp, 2004.166.16

Collecting European Landscape Sketches

An Introduction to True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780-1870

Lectures and Book Signings

  • Sunday, February 2, 2020
  • 2:00 p.m.
  • West Building Lecture Hall
  • In-person

An integral part of art education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, painting en plein air was a core practice for avant-garde artists in Europe. Intrepid artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille CorotJohn ConstableSimon DenisJules Coignet, and André Giroux—highly skilled at quickly capturing effects of light and atmosphere—made sometimes arduous journeys to paint their landscapes in person at breathtaking sites ranging from the Baltic coast and Swiss Alps to the streets of Paris and the ruins of Rome.

The exhibition True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780-1870 consists of some 100 oil sketches, including several recently discovered works. Drawing on new scholarship, it explores issues such as attribution, chronology, and technique. To celebrate its opening at the National Gallery of Art on February 2, 2020, Mary Morton leads a conversation with Ger Luijten, Jane Munro, and Alice GoldetTrue to Nature is on view through May 3, 2020.

A signing of the exhibition catalog follows.