The Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA is exhibiting a recent acquisition, the 19th century landscape painting, Farm in the Landes (House of the Garde), by Pierre Étienne Théodore Rousseau, which has been held in private collections and has not been widely exhibited since 1946. Rousseau worked on Farm in the Landes for nearly twenty-five years.
The painting had its origins in a trip to a region just south of Bordeaux in 1844. At that time he made a composition drawing and oil painting nearly as large as the final work. Upon returning to his Barbizon studio, Rousseau worked on the canvas over the ensuing decades. The painting was one of three initially purchased in 1852 by Frédéric Hartmann, an Alsatian industrialist and one of the artist’s most important patrons. Owing to Rousseau’s obsessive work, Hartmann was unable to collect his picture until well after the artist’s death in 1867.
One of the key figures of the Barbizon School, Rousseau wrote to Hartmann that Farm in the Landes was one of his best and most personal works. It depicts a region of southwestern France that the artist likened to Eden. Monumental oaks, silhouetted against an intense blue sky, dominate a scene of a humble farm warmed by late afternoon sunlight. A dusty path leads through a rustic gate into a busy farmyard where a dog sits patiently, a man repairs a wagon wheel while a child looks on, a woman feeds cows, and a second woman hangs washing before a barn with a great thatched roof.
In a series of remarkable letters, artist and patron debated the progress of the three pictures, particularly the question of the high degree of finish that characterizes Rousseau’s late style.
Rousseau explained that Farm in the Landes “is for me the object of serious thought and a study at once sweet and bitter.”
His long work on the picture finally brought pictorial form to his experience of the place itself, but the meticulous technique he had developed was at odds with the current fashion for quickly painted landscapes. Rousseau exhibited Farm in the Landes at the Salon in 1859, where it was criticized by conservative writers but admired by younger ones who saw it as a significant experimental work.
The painting is currently on view. On Thursday, January 14, senior curator Richard Rand will present a Looking at Lunchtime Gallery Talk discussing the new acquisition. Admission is free, and the talk begins at 12:30 pm.
The Clark is located at 225 South Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts. The galleries are open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm (open daily in July and August). Admission is free November through May. Admission June 1 through October 31 is $12.50 for adults, free for children 18 and younger, members, and students with valid ID. For more information, call 413-458-2303 or visit clarkart.edu.