A new exhibition at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, “Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau” illustrates why he is often considered one of the great French painters in the second half of the 19th century. The show at J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, which opened Tuesday, presents a rich array of paintings as well as drawings by Rousseau (1812–1867), illustrating his intense style, which highlighted dramatic scenes of nature with a draftsman’s precision.
The Getty exhibition is the first comprehensive showing devoted to Rousseau in North America. It features over 70 works from 40 museums worldwide and several private collections. It is the largest show devoted to the artist since the Musée du Louvre in Paris held one in 1967 to mark the centenary of the French artist’s death.
While his fame was eventually eclipsed by the rise of Impressionism, Rousseau once commanded staggering sums for his landscapes after achieving international fame as a leader of the so-called “Barbizon School,” which was named for the town near the Forest of Fontainebleau where he and a noted group of landscape painters lived and worked. He had a distinct telescopic visual sense with intense darkened edges that draw viewers into the heart of the work. Given his passion for nature, he sought to express its diversity in a variety of media.
“The exhibition explores the full scope of Rousseau’s achievement, revealing how creative, diverse, and experimental the art of landscape could be in the decades just before Impressionism,” says Timothy Potts, the Getty Museum’s director. Potts also noted that that “a lot of artists fell from grace in the 20th century, one of the saddest was Rousseau. He was admired by contemporaries and celebrated in the 19th and early 20th centuries “when his pictures were among the most admired and coveted in the world,” the director added.
Getty paintings curator Scott Allan noted that, while his subject matter rarely varied, the artist “never settled into a style.” He pointed out that he was “equal parts painter and draftsman.” His practice included plein air aspects, but he was mostly a studio artist invested in old master traditions coming of age when there was great enthusiasm for English landscapes and later Dutch ones. Toward the end of his life, Rousseau became interested in Japanese prints, which influenced his later works. Allan added, “Rousseau was hard to characterize, an artist of contradictions.”
The Getty exhibition is presented chronologically and the museum shows how the nature of Rousseau’s work dramatically changed from the beginning of his career to the end. In fact, some of the later drawings were in his studio and not complete at the time of his death. The exhibit includes some fairly complete sketches and paintings done later showing the same subject matter, a painting of “Mont Blanc Seen from La Faucille, Storm Effect” from 1934 and another one of the same mountain view sans storm 30 years later, and several works depicting the Fontainebleau forest. Among the more dramatic views are “The Old Park of Saint-Cloud” (1831-32), “Edge of the Forest, Sun Setting” (1845–46), and “Morning Effect” (about 1850).
The exhibition showing the dramatic Rousseau views of nature, which was co-organized with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, will be at the Getty Museum through Sept. 11, 2016. It will subsequently move to Copenhagen, where it will be on display from Oct. 13, 2016, through Jan. 8, 2017.
Written and Edited by Dyanne Weiss
Preview of Exhibition with Curator
Getty Center press materials
New York Times: Théodore Rousseau Gets His Due at the Getty Museum
“Edge of the Forest, Sun Setting,” about 1845–46, Théodore Rousseau, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), purchased with funds provided by the William Randolph Hearst Collection.
“Winter Landscape,” about 1855–65, Théodore Rousseau, pen and brown ink on paper. Courtesy of a private collection. Photo courtesy of Jill Newhouse Gallery.