As related by Rousseau’s friend and biographer Alfred Sensier, this painting represents part of the woods at Fontainebleau where the trees—some hundreds of years old—were vulnerable to harvest, a practice the artist bitterly opposed. Although the composition reflects seventeenth-century Dutch prototypes, its contemporary resonance is elucidated by the poignant contrast between the saplings in the recently cleared opening at the left and the aged specimens at the right. After working on the panel for two years Rousseau dated it, a rare gesture signifying that he considered it particularly successful. The painting was included in Rousseau’s triumphant display at Salon of 1855.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): TH.Rousseau- 1854
Victor de Papeleu, Paris; General Goethals, Brussels (in 1872); ?Prosper Crabbe, Brussels; [Georges Petit, Paris, in 1882]; M. Defoer, Paris (in 1883); William Schaus, New York (until d. 1892; his estate sale, American Art Association, New York, February 28, 1896, no. 16, as "Edge of the Woods," for $ 25,200 to Samuel P. Avery for MMA)
Paris. Salon. May 15–?, 1855, no. 3934 (as "Lisière des Monts-Gérard, forêt de Fontainebleau").
Paris. Galerie Georges Petit. "Cent chefs-d'œuvre des collections parisiennes," June 12–?, 1883, no. 83 (as "La Lisière des Monts Girard," lent by M. Defoer).
Winnipeg Art Gallery. "European and American Paintings," January 21–February 17, 1951, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Barbizon: French Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century," February 4–May 10, 1992, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Origins of Impressionism," September 27, 1994–January 8, 1995, no. 184.
Albany. New York State Museum. "French Painters of Nature; The Barbizon School: Landscapes from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 22–August 22, 2004, no catalogue.
J. de La Rochenoire. Exposition universelle des beaux-arts: Le Salon de 1855. Paris, 1855, p. 65.
Eugène Loudun. Exposition universelle des beaux-arts: Le Salon de 1855. Paris, 1855, p. 161.
Charles Perrier. "Exposition universelle des beaux-arts IX. La Peinture française, paysage." L'Artiste, 5th ser., 15 (July 15, 1855), p. 142, calls it a brilliant sketch.
Alfred Sensier. Souvenirs sur Th. Rousseau. Paris, 1872, pp. 114 [possibly this picture], 213–14, 224, describes the old oak tree as irritated that the young sapling is growing in the place where older trees have been cut down
George A. Lucas. Journal entry. November 27, 1882 [published in Lilian M. C. Randall, "The Diary of George A. Lucas: An American Art Agent in Paris, 1857–1909," Princeton, N. J., 1979, vol. 2, p. 553], states that he saw it at the dealer Georges Petit's in Paris for Fr 150,000 and calls it "Le Sentier".
George A. Lucas. Journal entry. November 29, 1882 [published in Lilian M. C. Randall, "The Diary of George A. Lucas: An American Art Agent in Paris, 1857–1909," Princeton, N. J., 1979, vol. 2, p. 553], states that Petit offered it for Fr 140,000 and that the dealer is "to keep it" until December 12th or 15th for Samuel Putnam Avery.
Albert Wolff. Cent chefs-d'œuvre des collections parisiennes. Exh. cat., Galerie Georges Petit. Paris, , p. 104, no. 72, ill. opp. p. 64 (engraving), as "La Lisière des Monts Girard".
William Schaus. Letter to E. Le Roy & Cie. March 16, 1891 [included in catalogue of the George I. Seney sale, New York, February 11, 1891 (Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California, cat. no. 1891 Feb. 11 NeAmS c.3 DTL)], writes "... J'ai bien reçu votre [...] lettre de 6 mars. Vous me demandez si j'ai quelques très beaux tableaux de maitres de l'Ecole de 1830: Oui! J'ai d'abord la merveille de Théodore Rousseau 'Les Monts Girard.' Mon prix est de cinquante mille dollars net..." (I am in receipt of your letter of March 6. You ask whether I have any very beautiful paintings by the masters of ther Generation of 1830: Yes! First of all I have Théodore Rousseau's marvel "Les Monts Girard." My price is $50,000 net...).
"William Schaus Collection." New York Times (February ?, 1896), p. 14.
"Famous Paintings Sold at Auction." New York Herald Tribune (February 29, 1896), p.?, describes its sale for $25,200 to Samuel P. Avery at the Schaus sale on February 28, 1896.
"Metropolitan Museum of Art: New Purchases and Loans." New York Times (May 4, 1896), p. 4.
Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, p. 88.
Georges Lanoë and Tristan Brice. Histoire de l'école française de paysage (depuis le Poussin jusqu'à Millet). Paris, 1901, pp. 190, 272, date it between May 1852 and 1853 and note that M. Papeleu was its first owner.
Émile Michel. "Théodore Rousseau et les peintres de Barbison [sic]." Revue des deux mondes, 5ème pér., 27 (May 1, 1905), p. 178.
Frank Fowler. "The Field of Art: Modern Foreign Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum, Some Examples of the French School." Scribner's Magazine 44 (September 1908), p. 384, ill.
Ralcy Husted Bell. Art-Talks with Ranger. New York, 1914, p. 120, quotes the painter Henry Ward Ranger as claiming that it "was originally a very late 'Afternoon' with a warm sky—almost a 'Sunset,'" but that "it was 'restored' or 'cleaned' by an 'artist' who cleaned it so thoroughly with a solvent that the sun set never to rise again".
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 82–83, ill., call it "The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard"; remark that Rousseau opposed the partial clearing in the forest of Fontainebleau and "hoped to preserve in this painting the appearance of the old trees that were to be cut down"; note that his rare addition of the date to his signature suggests that he considered this picture to be successful.
Gary Tinterow in Gary Tinterow and Henri Loyrette. Origins of Impressionism. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1994, pp. 73, 295, 460, no. 184, fig. 76 (color), dates it 1854.
Christoph Heilmann inCorot, Courbet und die Maler von Barbizon: "Les amis de la nature". Ed. Christoph Heilmann, Michael Clarke, and John Sillevis. Exh. cat., Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen and Haus der Kunst München. Munich, 1996, p. 12, fig. 2.
Jörg Zutter inCourbet: Artiste et promoteur de son œuvre. Ed. Jörg Zutter and Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Exh. cat., Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne. Paris, 1998, p. 13, fig. 3.
Michel Schulman with Marie Bataillès. Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Paris, 1999, p. 287, no. 544, ill., erroneously lists Christies, New York, 1989 followed by a private collection under the provenance.
Klaus Herding. "Beyond Reality: Truth in Courbet and Millet. A Discourse about Anti-Realism." Barbizon: Malerei der Natur—Natur der Malerei. Ed. Andreas Burmester et al. Munich, 1999, p. 285.
Greg M. Thomas. Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. Princeton, 2000, pp. 143, 172, 254 n. 58, fig. 79.
Asher Ethan Miller inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 50–51, 301, no. 48, ill. (color and black and white).
Simon Kelly in Kimberly Jones. In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2008, p. 147.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 434, no. 342, ill. pp. 352, 434 (color).
A version of this composition, also dated 1854 but painted on canvas and measuring 21 1/8 x 32 inches (53.6 x 81.3 cm), is in the Muragame Museum, Japan (Schulman 1999, no. 543).