Contrary to the notion you might get from some sources, French Impressionism did not spring full-blown from the brushes of Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Bazille the moment they met in Charles Gleyre’s atelier in the 1860’s.
Not only did the fully realized style we know as Impressionism take time to develop among the artists themselves, the fundamentals on which it is based can be traced back through a logical progression from preceding artists and movements.
Chief among them were the painters of the Barbizon School, French painters who were inspired by the true-to-nature location painting of John Constable in the early 19th century, the Realism of Gustave Courbet and the direct observation and rendering of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and who came to Barbizon and the neighboring Forest of Fontainebleau to paint in the 1820s.
You can see in the work of all of these painters, as well as in the paintings of Manet, Boudin and others, the elements that would make up the techniques of Impressionism — painting from nature, the pursuit of the effects of light, the short, separate, painterly brush marks, wet on wet paint application and the direct approach to painting, rather than the careful layers of glazing favored by academic painting of the time.
A new exhibition organized by the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, the National Galleries of Scotland and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam attempts to bring one Barbizon painter forward in particular as a progenitor of Impressionism.
Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh: Impressions of Landscape is an exhibition currently at the Van Gogh museum — after a run at the other two — that focuses on the influence of French painter Charles-François Daubigny on Monet and the other Impressionists, as well as on Post-Impressionists like Van Gogh.
There is a nice article on The Culture Trip that describes the exhibition and gives some background on the painters and their relationships.
Daubigny (pronounced “doh-bee-nee”) trained at the French Academy and initially painted in the formal style favored by that influential institution, using location sketches for reference to compose idealized studio works. In the early 1840s he moved to Barbizon in the French countryside and began to paint directly from nature.
I’m not certain how the influences moved between Daubigny and the other Barbizon painters like Théodore Rousseau and Jean-François Millet, but I know that Daubigny became an influential member of the circle, even though he was younger than most of the other painters there.
Following paths blazed by role models and mentors like Constable, Corot and Courbet, the painters in Barbizon took landscape painting a long way from the formalism of the Academy to the fresh, lively, painted-from-nature works that would so influence the Impressionists.
The Daubigny painting above, top (with detail) was painted in 1857, a year before the earliest known painting by Monet (which was much more traditional in approach than his later Impressionist work).
Daubigny met Monet in London in the mid-1860s, and they painted together in the Netherlands. Monet even started painting from a boat, a practice that Daubigny had initiated during his time in Barbizon.
The exhibition, and the book that accompanies it, Inspiring Impressionism: Daubigny, Monet, Van Gogh, go on to explore further Daubigny’s influence on the development of Impressionism, and on the course of landscape painting in general.
In the meanwhile, I’ve gathered some links and resources to explore Daubigny’s work.
Writer Émile Zola, in his comments on Daubigny’s paintings on display at the Paris World’s Fair in 1878, wrote: “Look at any landscape by Daubigny: it is the very soul of nature that speaks to you.”