Valenciennes, Daubigny and the Origins of French Landscape Painting
September 7 – December 12, 2004
French painters have long had a special affinity with landscape. Their engagement with nature is displayed in this exhibition that traces the depiction of landscape from the late Renaissance—when it first emerged from the background of narrative representation—to the eve of Impressionism in the nineteenth century.
Water has served as a subject for artists in a broad variety of manifestations. Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, the “father” of French Neoclassical landscape painting, uses water in the foreground of his Classical Greek Landscape with Girls Sacrificing Their Hair to Diana not only as a reflective surface, but also as an important compositional device. The other touchstone painting in the installation is an even more eloquent example. Charles-François Daubigny’s The Water’s Edge, Optevoz depicts a body of water just outside the village of Optevoz, not far from Lyon in southern France. The painting is on one hand a naturalist rendering of an unassuming detail of the rural countryside and on the other a portrait of a small body of water that had economic significance regionally and a deep cultural resonance nationally as a reminder of France’s agrarian heritage.
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