In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet
March 2 – June 8, 2008
East Building, Mezzanine and Upper Level, Northeast, and Upper Level, North Bridge
Once the domain and hunting ground of kings, the Forest of Fontainebleau, some thirty-five miles southeast of Paris, is where French landscape painting and photography took root. Rough and unspoiled, the forest was exalted as an example of nature in its purest state. Its distinctive terrain — verdant woods, magnificent old-growth trees, imposing rock formations, and stark plateaus — offered a wealth of motifs that attracted painters and photographers alike. The forest was such a point of national pride that a portion of it was set aside in 1861 as the first nature preserve in history.
Like Italy before it, Fontainebleau became an obligatory destination for any serious landscape artist. During the 1820s and 1830s, painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Théodore Rousseau helped to transform the nearby villages of Barbizon and Chailly into informal artists’ colonies and the forest into an open-air studio. Through their close observation of the native countryside, these artists sparked a movement known as the Barbizon School that introduced a new sense of naturalism into landscape painting and challenged the French Royal Academy’s preference for idealized pastoral visions of nature. In the 1860s a new generation of artists that included Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Auguste Renoir discovered Fontainebleau, laying the foundations for the light-filled depictions that would bring them fame as impressionists.
A decade after the introduction of photography in 1839, photographers such as Gustave Le Gray arrived in the forest, similarly seeking to capture the ephemeral moods of nature. Often working side by side, photographers and painters inspired each other to explore new ways of representing landscape. This exhibition brings together paintings, pastels, and photographs, as well as artists’ equipment and tourist ephemera, to celebrate the dynamic relationship between artists and locale at a crucial point in history when a new modern art was forged in the Forest of Fontainebleau.
The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.
The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.
Overview: 102 paintings, photographs, prints, and drawings, created from the 1820s through the 1870s and inspired by the landscape of the Forest of Fontainbleau near Paris, France, were shown in this exhibition. Works from the collection of the National Gallery of Art and loans from public and private collections in the United States and Europe were included. Studies and paintings by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet, Claude Monet and photographers Gustave LeGray and Eugène Cuvelier were among the works on view. Included also were guidebooks, maps, and souvenirs, 19th-century photographic equipment, and open-air painting gear. The exhibition was organized in six sections: Discovery of the Forest, Trees and Rocks, Nature and Observation, Fontainebleau on a Grand Scale, Village Life, and Sites of Renown.
An Acoustiguide tour of the exhibition was available, narrated by National Gallery of Art director Earl A. Powell III with commentary by exhibition curators Kimberly Jones and Sarah Kennel and by Christopher Otter, Ohio State University.
An opening-day lecture was given by Kimberly Jones and Sarah Kennel. A public symposium, En Plein Air: Representing Landscape in Nineteenth-Century France and Britain, was presented May 2 and 3 in the East Building Auditorium. Sunday concerts in honor of the exhibition were held during March and April. "Weekend in the Forest of Fontainebleau," a family weekend offering musical performances, films, and an art activity for children and adults was held April 19 and 20.
Garden Café: Fontainebleau served a special menu inspired by French country cuisine designed by Washington-area chefs.
Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in association with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Kimberly Jones, associate curator of French paintings, National Gallery of Art, and Helga Aurisch, associate curator of European Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, were curators, in collaboration with Sarah Kennel, assistant curator of photographs, National Gallery of Art.
Sponsor: The exhibition in Washington was made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation. It was supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The family weekend was made possible in part by the Prince Charitable Trusts.
Catalog: In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet by Kimberly Jones et al. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2008.
Other Venues: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, July 13–October 19, 2008
- The Magic of Fontainebleau
- Audio, Released: March 18, 2008, (7:33 minutes)
- Press Event: In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet
- Audio, Released: February 26, 2008, (27:46 minutes)