Skip to Main Content

In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet

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.

Claude-Françoise Denecourt, Carte indiquant les sites et points de vue remarquables de la Forêt de Fontainebleau, 1839, Private Collection

1 of 23

Augustin Enfantin, An Artist Painting in the Forest of Fontainebleau, c. 1825, Private collection

2 of 23

Théodore Claude Félix Caruelle d'Aligny, Rocks at Fontainebleau, c. 1842, Musée du Louvre, Paris, Gift of Maurice Bourdot-Lamotte, 1951

3 of 23

Rosa Bonheur, Forest of Fontainebleau: Spring in the Woods, 1860–1865, Private collection

4 of 23

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Le Rageur, Forest of Fontainebleau, c. 1830, Private collection

5 of 23

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Study of a Tree Trunk in the Forest of Fontainebleau, October 1822, John Schlichte Bergen Gallery, Amsterdam, and Jack Kilgore, and Co. Inc., New York City

6 of 23

Jules Hereau, Monsieur Lafontaine Visits Barbizon, September 1859, Private collection, Courtesy of Douwes Fine Art (since 1805), Amsterdam

7 of 23

Narcisse Diaz de la Peña, The Edge of the Forest at Les Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau, 1868, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Fund, 2000.37.1

8 of 23

Constant Famin, Théophile Chauvel near the Mare aux Fées, 1865–1870, Dietmar Siegert Collection

9 of 23

Claude Monet, The Bodmer Oak, Fontainebleau Forest, 1865, Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Sam Salz and Bequest of Julia W. Emmons, by exchange, 1964

10 of 23
A woman wearing a long, slate-gray gown walks with a man wearing a suit and cap in a woodland setting in this vertical painting. Both people have pale, peach-colored skin. The scene is loosely painted so many of the details are indistinct. The woman walks away from us, angled to our right so we see her right cheek and the tip of her straight nose. Her lips are parted, and her dark hair is pulled back into a bun under a silvery-gray hat that curves over her head. The long-sleeved bodice is embellished with swirling black lines across the back of the neck, down along the arms and backs of the shoulders, and around the bottom. Her full skirt has a short train that trails behind her along the dirt path. To our left, a man stands with his body angled toward the woman, and us. He has short, dark hair under a rounded, brimmed, gray cap. His long sideburns connect with his full beard and mustache. The eye we can see is a dab of pale blue paint, and he looks at the woman.  He wears a navy-blue jacket over a white, collared shirt and white bowtie, and charcoal-gray pants. He reaches his left hand, farther from us, toward the woman, and he holds a short stick or staff in his other hand. Strokes of white on the dirt path suggest dappled sunlight filtering through the trees, which fill the rest of the composition. Leaves are created with swipes of celery and sage green, and trunks with lines of dark brown. A few touches of baby blue at the top center of the painting suggest a patch of sky through the dense canopies. The artist signed the lower right corner, “Claude Monet.”

Claude Monet, Bazille and Camille (Study for "Déjeuner sur l'Herbe"), 1865, oil on canvas, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.41

11 of 23

Constant Alexandre Famin, Forest Scene, c. 1865, albumen print from collodion negative mounted on blue paper, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 2004.42.1

12 of 23

Alphonse Jeanrenaud, Fontainebleau, c. 1860s, albumen print, The Amy Rose Silverman Fund and Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 1999.70.1

13 of 23

Alfred Sisley, Rural Guardsman in the Fontainebleau Forest, 1870, Mr. and Mrs. Marsh Gibson

14 of 23

Adolphe André Wacquez, En Foret a Breau, 1860, cliche-verre, Andrew W. Mellon Fund, 1978.1.6

15 of 23

Eugène Cuvelier, Beech Tree near the Bodmer Oak, early 1860s, Private collection

16 of 23

Auguste-Xavier Leprince, Painters at Rest, Fontainebleau, c. 1824, Musée Départmental de l'Oise, Beauvais

17 of 23

Auguste Giraudon's Artist, Peasant, c. 1870, albumen print from collodion negative, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation through Robert and Joyce Menschel, 2002.82.3

18 of 23

Eugène Cuvelier, Mare à Piat (Marsh at Piat), c. 1863, salted paper print, Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon and Patrons' Permanent Fund, 2006.133.63

19 of 23

Gustave Le Gray, The Road to Chailly, Forest of Fontainebleau (Pavé de Chailly), c. 1852, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Part of the Townsend Bequest

20 of 23

Gustave Le Gray, Study of Trees and Pathways, 1849, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

21 of 23

Eugène Cuvelier, Quarry at the Sands of Macherin, 1863, Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Harriette and Noel Levine Gift and Rogers Fund, 1996

22 of 23

Eugène Cuvelier, Farm, Barbizon, early 1860s, Collection Tel Aviv Museum of Art

23 of 23