Constant Troyon was one of the leading nineteenth-century animaliers, artists specializing in the depiction of animals in a landscape setting, and he is best known for large-scale bucolic scenes of cattle or sheep dating from later in his career, which ended when his health failed in the late 1850s. The Approaching Storm, in contrast, is an earlier masterpiece. On the far bank of a watercourse a woman and child scurry toward a barge while two ferrymen, faced by bad weather, hasten to remove their poles from the riverbank to signal the closing of the ferry. The peasant staffage and rustic scenery signal Troyon's allegiance to the ideals of the Barbizon movement: the dignity of common man and the nobility of life in the countryside. The drama of the impending storm, with clouds towering over the meadows and dominating the diminutive figures, also places Troyon's composition within the romantic tradition.
The Approaching Storm, attests to Troyon's admiration of the great English landscape painter John Constable (1776-1837). The work has the breadth and sweep of Constable's major exhibition pieces, his so-called six-foot paintings. Troyon also favored a larger scale for major compositions, even though it ran counter to the scale prescribed by the academic hierarchy, which placed landscape near the bottom of the range of artists' subjects. Troyon's attention to the details of the construction of the wooden ferryboat and landings echoes Constable's and the low point of view he adopted looking across a gentle watercourse toward a vista of pastures, woodland, and a village on a distant ridge recalls Constable's depictions of the Stour Valley. Troyon underscored his debt to the English painter by borrowing and adapting the pose and costume of the near ferryman from Constable's 1824 painting The Lock (Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Madrid).
Appreciation for Troyon's mastery only emerged during the 1990s. The Approaching Storm lay unknown in a private collection from 1927 to 1995, when the National Gallery of Art acquired it. Contemporary critics ranked Troyon on a par with the Barbizon painter Théodore Rousseau, a ranking secured for our artist by paintings like The Approaching Storm.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication French Paintings of the Nineteenth Century, Part I: Before Impressionism, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/french-paintings-nineteenth-century.pdf
(Text by Florence E. Coman, published in the National Gallery of Art exhibition catalogue, Art for the Nation, 2000)
lower left: C. TROYON. / 1849.
J. Grant Morris, Allerton Priory, Woolton, Liverpool; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 23-25 April 1898, 1st day, no. 126); (Arthur Tooth & Sons, London); transferred April 1901 to their New York office; private collection, Chicago, by 1927; by descent to private collection, California; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, New York, 25 May 1995, no. 216, as The Ferry Crossing); purchased through (Wildenstein & Co., New York) by NGA.
- Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1999, no. 8, repro.
- Art for the Nation: Collecting for a New Century, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000-2001, unnumbered catalogue, repro.
- "Fine Arts. The Private Collections of England, No. LXXVII, Allerton Priory, Woolton, Liverpool." Athenaeum, no. 2968 (13 September 1884): 340-341.
- 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: 343-347, color repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 358, no. 294, color repro.