School Me Saturday: What is the 1800s Barbizon School?

The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet

We’re starting this thing where every Saturday we serve up a tidbit of info about art, or art history, or whatever art-related. Basically we want you to know all about art. We’re going to start with some info on the Barbizon School, aka the Fountainebleau School.

An important movement in French painting, the term ‘Barbizon School’ refers to a group of painters who, around 1848, settled in and around the French village of Barbizon near the Fontainebleau forest. They were also known as the Fontainebleau School and their work is regarded as the strongest movement of purely landscape painting in nineteenth century France. 

Noted above all for their plein-air painting, Barbizon artists developed a remarkable naturalism, minutely observing natural settings. In so doing, they rejected many of the canons of academic art in their quest to establish a new and prosaic form of realist painting – an idiom that led directly to the socially aware realism of Gustave Courbet. Their paintings are mostly landscapes of plains, trees and forests, all rendered in a fluid style. 

The most famous representatives of the Barbizon School are Camille Corot and Theodore Rousseau, the latter being the organizer and leader of both the group and proponent of its theories. Other noteworthy figures were Jules Dupre (1811-89), whose work was characterized by the sombre use of light, and Jean-Francois Millet whose work, The Gleaners (pictured above), is an oil painting depicting three peasant women gleaning a field of stray stalks of wheat after the harvest. Charles-Francois Daubigny, a specialist in landscapes featuring riverbanks, was also an important member of the group, as was the Spanish-born painter Narcisse Diaz de la Pena (1807-76).

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