In the 1820s, the countryside of France began to rival Italy for the attention of its painters, who drew from a tradition with strong roots in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch and Flemish art. This scene may be an early depiction of the Forest of Fontainebleau. While the landscape retains all the freshness of a plein-air study, the figures are stock characters from Leprince’s repertory.
Leprince showed early promise but died young. During his brief career his skills as a figure painter were sought by fellow landscapists ranging from Alexandre-Hyacinthe Dunouy to André Giroux (see Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy, New Haven, 1991, pp. 62, 236 n. 85 ). But he was primarily a painter of landscapes, working in the northern tradition whose most characteristic practioner in France in the 1820s was Jean-Louis Demarne, which is manifest in scenes of encounters in marketplaces and along country roads such as this painting of a shepherd and a rider, possibly a tradesman. The oak-shaded setting is almost certainly in the Île-de-France, possibly in the Forest of Fontainebleau, which was becoming a destination for plein-air painters in the 20s.
The figural group also appears in a highly finished sepia drawing by Leprince, signed and dated 1823, that originally formed part of the collection of Louis-Joseph-Auguste Coutan (now in a private collection; see Coutan-Hauguet sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 16–17, 1889, no. 261, as "Le Voyageur"; see also Gérald Schurr and Pierre Cabanne, Dictionnaire des Petits Maîtres de la peinture [1820–1920], 2nd ed., Paris, 2008, p. 470, ill.).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
[Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London; sold to Goelet]; John Goelet (sold to Fischer-Kiener); [Jacques Fischer-Chantal Kiener, Paris, until 1993; sold on June 23 to Whitney]; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1993)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 63).
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), p. 46, fig. 63 (color).