DESPORTES, Alexandre-François
(b. 1661, Champigneulles, d. 1743, Paris)

River Landscape

c. 1700
Oil on paper, laid down on wood, 28 x 43 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

In the last decades of the seventeenth century the ideal landscape of Claude Lorrain was continued by painters such as Étienne Allegrain and Pierre-Antoine Patel (Patel the Younger) who added to it a new type of artificiality which was almost eighteenth-century in character. But one artist, Alexandre-François Desportes, breaks entirely new ground. He spent the years 1695-96 at the Court of Poland as a portrait painter. On his return to Paris he began to devote his attention to the painting of animals, in the form either of hunting-scenes or of still-life compositions with dead game. It was for these works that he was celebrated in his own day.

But as a preparation for the landscape backgrounds of his hunting scenes Desportes made a series of studies in oil on paper, which reveal an entirely novel approach to nature. They are direct notes of views which he saw in the neighbourhood of Paris and in the Seine valley, put down with sensitiveness and humility, with no desire to improve the actual scene so as to make it fit in with a preconceived idea either of what nature should be or of how a composition should be constructed. In some cases the designs are simple, in others they have unexpected features, such as the intrusion of a reed or a tree-trunk into the very foreground. In colour they are subdued, painted in the quiet light of the Île-de-France, which no one else rendered so faithfully till the time of Corot.

Desportes lived till 1743, and many of his works belong to the eighteenth century in character, but these sketches seem to date from the years 1690 to 1706. In spirit they look forward beyond the eighteenth century to the methods of the Barbizon school.

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