DIAZ DE LA PEÑA, Narcisse Virgile
(b. 1807, Bordeaux, d. 1876, Menton)
The Forest in Fontainebleau1867
Oil on canvas, 72 x 92 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux
In France the search for national identity, the concern to put down roots in one's own territory, had been in evidence since the 1830s among such artists as Théodore Rousseau and his successors, prompted by the English example of John Constable and Richard Parkes Bonnington or that of the seventeenth-century Dutch masters. In the process, they deliberately rejected any reference to the Italian landscape, the very basis of historical landscape, which had been an academic genre since 1818 and was to be swept away as obsolete in the 1863 reform of the École des Beaux-Arts. They likewise detached themselves from the picturesque quality associated with Romantic trips to the French provinces in order to concentrate on essentials, namely the representation of nature. Charles Le Roux, Jules Dupré, and Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña encountered Théodore Rousseau before 1840. The so-called Barbizon School was dominated by the restless and highly poetic personality of Rousseau, who finally settled in the little town on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau in 1848.
This painting shows Diaz, the landscapist, at his best. He obtained spectacular effects by means of impasto combined with colour contrasts.