The exhibition From Corot to Cézanne - Nature as the artist’s studio reveals an evolution in 19th-century landscape painting which was to prove crucial to the development of modern art. It will do so by reference to renowned pictures by artists like Géricault, Corot, Courbet, Monet, Pissaro, Cézanne, Denis, Puvis de Chavannes and Doré. Visitors will be able to compare the French view of landscape with Dutch landscape painting, since the works of the 19th-century Hague School will once again be on show following their tour of museums outside the country.
For an artist to paint a landscape as a scene in itself is a less obvious choice than we may think. Up to the end of the 14th century, landscapes were used only as the background to religious scenes. It was not until the 15th century that landscape slowly began to be seen as a separate genre in its own right. From the 17th century onward, two opposing philosophies of landscape painting developed, with the Netherlands and France producing the most extreme representatives of the two views. In the Netherlands, there was a strong preference for a realistic representation of landscape, although artists did not paint outdoors, but used sketches made outside to compose landscapes in their studios. In France, on the other hand, the Académie des Beaux-Arts laid down that the paysage was to be regarded as a genre mineur. Admittedly, French artists like Poussin and Lorrain began to treat landscape as an independent genre, but they corrected the imperfections of nature and invariably incorporated a narrative element in their paintings, if only in the distance. These two philosophies – the Dutch and the French – can be regarded as the realistic as opposed to the idealistic view of nature. In 19th-century France, this existing difference of opinion was exacerbated by political events. The academy suffered a great blow to its prestige during the Revolution and after the Restoration it attempted to enforce its traditional principles all the more dogmatically. However, increasing numbers of artists wanted to show the real world as it was and started painting country scenes out of doors. Following Courbet’s example, they developed their own way of depicting nature, settled close to picturesque locations and returned to record the scene at different seasons. As a result, landscape painting became more prestigious and plein air painting was born. The academy opposed the trend with all its might and excluded the most progressive artists from its annual exhibitions (Salons). In response, the artists organised the Salon des Indépendants, where they exhibited works of art now regarded as the masterpieces of 19th-century art: paintings by artists like Courbet, Manet and Monet. The exhibition examines the idealised landscape, the Romantic landscape, the Realistic landscape, the Impressionists’ fascination with light and the plein air painting of the Barbizon School. The works will be drawn from the outstanding collection of the Petit Palais museum in Paris. (Publication by Waanders Publishers, ca. € 27.50).