The French landscape

The French landscape

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  • An avenue, Isle-Adam forest.

    ROUSSEAU Théodore (1812 - 1867)

  • The meadow. Souvenir of Ville-d'Avray.

    COROT Jean Baptiste Camille (1796 - 1875)

  • Entrance to the village of Voisins.

    PISSARRO Camille (1830 - 1903)

To close

Title: An avenue, Isle-Adam forest.

Author : ROUSSEAU Théodore (1812 - 1867)

Creation date : 1849

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 101 - Width 82

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. G. Ojedasite web

Picture reference: 93DE163 / RF 1882

An avenue, Isle-Adam forest.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - R. Ojeda

To close

Title: The meadow. Souvenir of Ville-d'Avray.

Author : COROT Jean Baptiste Camille (1796 - 1875)

Creation date : 1872

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 100 - Width 134

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowskisite web

Picture reference: 98DE6123 / RF 1795

The meadow. Souvenir of Ville-d'Avray.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - H. Lewandowski

To close

Title: Entrance to the village of Voisins.

Author : PISSARRO Camille (1830 - 1903)

Creation date : 1872

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 46 - Width 55.5

Technique and other indications: Oil painting on canvas

Storage place: Orsay Museum website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - P. Nerisite web

Picture reference: 97DE6993 / RF 2436

Entrance to the village of Voisins.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - P. Neri

Publication date: October 2014

Historical context

We can contrast with Françoise Cachin the French landscape of the 17th centurye century, rational, idealized, "Roman", setting of historical or mythological scenes, to that of the XIXe, more realistic and more modest, mirror of everyday life, inspired by a "Nordic" model whether Flemish or English, as under the Restoration where French artists were freely inspired by Constable, Bonington and Fielding whom they admired at the Salon of 1824.

While Poussin and Claude painted imaginary countries, imbued with biblical or royal grandeur, the painters of the XIXe century, above all those of the school of Barbizon and the Impressionists, endeavored to represent specific and ordinary places that they knew. The latter, more and more urban, is infatuated with nature and landscapes.

Image Analysis

It is not uncommon for French landscapers of the XIXe century, who paint for an urban clientele, represent the image of a preserved and harmonious nature, witness of a lost golden age.

This is emblematically the case for the Barbizon school and its leader Rousseau, of which is reproduced here a view of the Isle-Adam Forest. In a sun-drenched clearing, two young peasant women let their cows scatter. The sun casts white spots on the trunks and foliage, nuancing the overall green color unity. The trees that frame the clearing with their tall trunks and the vault they form seem to protect the young girls, as if inaccessible in their green setting.

In his Souvenir of Ville-d’Avray, Corot likewise represents a young girl seated on the edge of a clearing, under an immense arch of greenery. The green and brown tones of the canvas, the quivering of the foliage, the melancholy atmosphere of this scene, give these undergrowth an autumnal coldness. The smallness of the figures makes these wooded solitudes the theater of a myth, as with Poussin; the viewer, introduced into the intimacy of young girls at rest, enters a sanctuary of freshness and serenity; finally, like Corot, Rousseau guides the gaze towards the back of the painting, by an effect of perspective and by a contrast between the shadowy profusion of nature and the emptiness of the clearing.

A comparable peace surrounds Entrance to the village of Voisins by Pissarro. Time seems to have stood still. Humble dirt road, buildings without prestige, thin trees, low walls, everything is in its place in this dozing village, far from the transformations of the world. We find, as with Corot, the modesty, the sense of balance and moderation that characterize this rural France dear to the hearts of the leaders of the III.e Republic.


While industrialization and urbanization progressed, while from 1849 to the Commune the urban proletariat seemed to the bourgeoisie more and more threatening, while from the 1870s the rural exodus began to empty certain regions, French landscapers, from the school of Barbizon and Rosa Bonheur to Corot, including certain impressionists, like to immerse their city-dwellers in forests and idyllic undergrowth, jewels of a still pre-industrial world.

The landscapes and villages of these painters offer the image of a preserved France, leading in a setting both "eternal and familiar" a sweet existence, far from the garbage city and the dangers of industrialization. Here, we feel protected, "at home", and this rootedness is in contradiction with a disturbing mobility, that of workers, vagrants, wanderers.

The ideal expressed in the French landscapes of the second half of the 19th centurye century is that of a temperate and humble agrarianism, called to a long fortune, so true it is that these paintings offer the image of France of which the republicans dream - a France of small landowners, of the open air and of "moderate hills. ".

  • rural exodus
  • impressionism
  • industrial Revolution
  • barbizon (school of)
  • nature


Françoise CACHIN, "The painter's landscape", in Pierre NORA (dir.), Memorial place, volume II, The nation, Paris, Gallimard, 1986.

Michael CLARKE, Corot and the Art of Landscape, London, British Museum Press, 1991.

Prosper DORBEC, Landscape Art in France. Essay on its evolution from the end of the 18th century to the end of the Second Empire, Paris, Laurens, 1925.

Georges DUBY, André WALLON (dir.), History of rural France, t. 3, Apogee and crisis of peasant civilization, 1789-1914, Paris, Seuil, 1976.

Martin RIED, Pissarro, London, Studio Editions, 1993.

To cite this article

Ivan JABLONKA, "The French landscape"


  • Barbizon School: Group of painters settled in Barbizon, in the forest of Fontainebleau, in the years 1840-50. They devote themselves mainly to landscape painting and herald Impressionism. The most famous are Camille Corot, Charles-François Daubigny, Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau.

  • Video: Paysages de France - Landscapes of France - Part I


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