French, 1807 - 1876
Diaz, Narcisse; Diaz de la Peña, Virgilio Narcisso; Diaz de la Peña, Narcisse Virgile
Narcisse Diaz de la Peña was born in 1808 in Bordeaux, of Spanish parents who had fled the Peninsular Wars. After their early deaths, he grew up in foster care at Meudon. At thirteen, an infection, caused by an insect sting or snake bite, necessitated the amputation of his left leg. In 1823 he began an apprenticeship in painting on porcelain at a china factory in Paris, where he met Jules Dupré (1811-1889), who was to become his lifelong friend. Tired of industrial work, Diaz embarked in the late 1820s on a course of independent study, was briefly tutored by the history painter François Souchon (1787-1857), copied the masters at the Louvre, and supported himself by the sale of small pictures of his own invention. The poetry of Victor Hugo and the painting of Delacroix roused him to enthusiastic emulation. His own early work consisted of pastiches of romantic "fancy pictures"--odalisques, bathers, erotic mythologies, sentimental idylls. Gifted with an abundant, dangerously effortless facility, he supplied the art market with agreeable subjects in styles variously indebted to Correggio, Watteau, and Prud'hon, and had no difficulty in entering his paintings in the Paris Salons of the 1830s and 1840s.
From about 1833 he began to explore the forest of Fontainebleau, where he became a regular summer visitor in the following years, forming a close association with Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867) and the other landscape painters of what came to be known as the School of Barbizon. His studies of the forest were painted with the same speed and fluency as his romantic idylls, giving him the reputation of factory-like productivity--and an income vastly larger than that of his slower-working and less accommodating fellows at Barbizon, for whose needs he generously provided financial support. Awarded a first-class medal at the Salon of 1848, he was appointed chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1851. His paintings commanded higher prices than those of Corot, Rousseau, or Millet, but the critics were reserved in their judgment of his work, admiring its colorism while deploring what they considered its superficiality.
After 1859 Diaz ceased to exhibit at the Salon. Painters of a new generation, Claude Monet (1840-19z6), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), encountered in the forest of Fontainebleau in 1864, received his warm encouragement. At Etretat, where he summered in 1869, he painted seascapes in the company of Gustave Courbet. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, he sought refuge in Brussels. He died in 1876, aged sixty-eight, at the Mediterranean resort of'Mentone. [This is the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]