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Dreams of Elsewhere - Perspectives No. 406

Dreams of Elsewhere

Perspectives No. 406

The Painter Jules Le Coeur and his dogs in the forest of Fontainebleau, 1866, Pierre Auguste Renoir

The Painter Jules Le Coeur and His Dogs
in the Forest of Fontainebleau
1866   Pierre Auguste Renoir

   Culture often depicts painters as solitary figures, working in the seclusion of their studio garrets. Solitary as the processes of art-making may be, artists have often come together to form colonies, sometimes in the pursuit and exploration of a particularly interesting landscape to paint, sometimes to follow in the footsteps of a well-known painter or teacher.

   The Barbizon School of painters was an art colony named for the small village southeast of Paris from which it based. Located near the 97 square mile Forest of Fontainebleau, Barbizon became a favorite painting location for realist artists working directly from nature during the period from about 1830 through 1870. A few of the most notable artists associated with the Barbizon School include Théodore Rousseau, Charles-François Daubigny and Jean-François Millet. Their tonal paintings with soft brushwork were inspired by the landscape and the local people working there. Their work attracted the attention of and influenced the next generation of artists as well, many of whom also visited the Forest of Fontainebleau to paint, including Impressionists Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Claude Monet.

   In preparing for an article about the colony and the paintings produced there, we came across a descriptive narrative written by Robert Louis Stevenson about it. Stevenson did not visit the area until after the high point of the art colony had passed. In 1884, in the Magazine of Art, he wrote colorfully about the camaraderie and gregariousness still extant between artists there and about the inspiration which the Forest of Fontainebleau provided them. The article is included the book compiled by June Skinner Sawyers titled, Dreams of Elsewhere: Selected Travel Writings of Robert Louis Stevenson.

   “The charm of Fontainebleau is a thing apart. It is a place that people love even more than they admire. The vigorous forest air, the silence, the majestic avenues of highway, the wilderness of tumbled boulders, the great age and dignity of certain groves - these are but ingredients, they are not the secret of the philtre. The place is sanative; the air, the light, the perfumes, and the shapes of things concord in happy harmony. The artist may be idle and not fear the ‘blues.’ He may dally with his life. Mirth, lyric mirth, and a vivacious classical contentment are of the very essence of the better kind of art; and these, in that smiling forest, he has the chance to learn or to remember. . . “

   "But, before all its other advantages - charm, loveliness, or proximity to Paris - comes the great fact that it is already colonized. The institution of a painters’ colony is a work of time and tact. The population must be conquered. The innkeeper has to be taught, and he soon learns, the lesson of unlimited credit; he must be taught to welcome as a favored guest a young gentleman in a very greasy coat, and with little baggage beyond a box of colors and a canvas; and he must learn to preserve his faith in customers who will eat heartily and drink of the best, borrow money to buy tobacco, and perhaps not pay a stiver for a year. A color merchant has next to be attracted. A certain vogue must be given to the place, lest the painter, most gregarious of animals, should find himself alone. And no sooner are these first difficulties overcome, than fresh perils spring up upon the other side; and the bourgeois and the tourist are knocking at the gate. This is the crucial moment for the colony. If these intruders gain a footing, they not only banish freedom and amenity; pretty soon, by means of their long purses, they will have undone the education of the innkeeper; prices will rise and credit shorten; and the poor painter must fare farther on and find another hamlet. ‘Not here, O Apollo!’ will become his song.”

Map of the Forest of Fontainebleau




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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Nocturnes - A Primer on Night Painting

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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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