Barbizon Paintings at Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP
The private art collection of Frederick Billings was highly regarded in New York society during the 1880s. Among the many styles of paintings he collected were several landscapes by Barbizon painters. Barbizon, a village southeast of Paris, was the center of a landscape painting movement in the 19th century that is widely regarded as the precursor to French Impressionism. Like the Impressionists, Barbizon painters worked outdoors, seeking to capture seasonal changes and the effects of light. Many famous Impressionist painters trained with Barbizon artists, adapting their techniques and principles to develop their own methods.
Barbizon painters drew inspiration from the nearby Forest of Fountainebleau, a forested preserve at the Château de Fountainebleau, once used by French kings as a hunting lodge. With the growth of rail travel, artists like Théodore Rousseau, Jean-Francois Millet,and Camille Corot worried about the forest's growing popularity with Parisian tourists and the potential for development. It was partly due to Rousseau's efforts that Napolean III established a preserve at Fountainebleau in 1853 to protect the trees.
Billings' interests in sustainable forestry and agriculture are echoed in the Barbizon landscapes he purchased for his collection. We do not know if he ever visited Fountainebleau during his trip to France in 1861, but he was familiar with the estate and likely knew of its special status as a protected forest. He would later seek a similar status for the Yosemite Valley and its grand sequoias in 1864, and establish his own managed forest on his Woodstock property beginning in 1869.
Woman Gathering Fagots, c. 1840-1875, 42.3 x 52 cm
Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña (1808-1876) MABI 1589 Diaz is one of the best known Barbizon artists in the Billings' collection. He was born in Bordeaux, France to Spanish parents and began his artistic career painting ceramics for a porcelain factory. He began painting the landscapes of Fountainebleau around 1840, which was his focus for the rest of his career.
This painting was purchased by Billings for his Manhattan home. His granddaughter, Mary Rockefeller, inherited the painting from her mother and kept it for her home on Fifth Avenue. Her husband, Laurance Rockfeller, transferred it to their Woodstock, Vermont home in 1997, with the intention of donating it to the National Park Service.
Landscape with Cattle, c.1840-1889, 40 x 35 cm
Jules-Louis Dupré (1811-1889) MABI 1769 Dupré was born in Nantes, France and like his life-long friend, Narcisse-Virgile Diaz dela Peña, began his artistic career painting porcelain in factories. Throughout the 1830s and 1840s he was deeply influenced by the work of Barbizon painter, Théodore Rousseau, and they often worked together.
Like the Diaz, this painting was purchased by Billings for his Manhattan home and brought to Vermont by Laurance Rockefeller in 1997.
Shepherdess and Flock, 1874, 36 x 28.2 cm
Charles Emile Jacque (1813-1894)MABI 1747
Born in Paris, Jacque began his artistic career as an illustrator, engraver and lithographer. He moved to Fountainebleau in 1849, along with friend and fellow painter, Jean-Francois Millet, where both became associated with the Barbizon school. He developed a special talent for painting animals and was particularly well-known for his depictions of sheep.
Like the Diaz and the Dupré, this painting was purchased by Billings for his Manhattan home and brought to Vermont by Laurance Rockefeller in 1997.
Close of Day, c. 1870-1882, 78.6 x 99 cm
Robert Crannell Minor (1839-1904)MABI 1594
Minor was born in New York City where he first studied painting. He moved to Europe inthe 1860s, eventually joining the colony at Barbizon where he studied with Narcisse-VirgileDiaz de la Peña. He was influenced by Diaz and Rousseau and developed a talent for painting forest landscapes in the Barbizon style. He later returned to the United States and settled in Connecticut.
Frederick Billings purchased this painting from the artist in 1882. It originally hung in his Manhattan home but was transferred to the Woodstock property by 1914. At one point, Frederick Billings owned four paintings by Minor, the most from any one artist in his private collection.
Vale of Kennet, c. 1872-1874, 126 x 75 cm
Robert Crannell Minor (1839-1904) MABI 2824
After studying with Diaz at Barbizon in the 1860s, Minor traveled to Belgium,Germany, Italy and finally, southern England, where he likely painted this canvas. The Kennet is a river in southern England.
Frederick Billings purchased this painting in 1882. He moved it to Woodstock in 1886 where it hung prominently in the Mansion Parlor for many years.