In this pastoral scene, Bertin employs figures gathered around an aged poet at the lower right, both to animate the landscape and to evoke the golden age of classical antiquity. His idealized vision of nature is very much in the manner of French artists active in Rome in the seventeenth century, notably Claude Lorrain. At the end of the eighteenth century, paintings like this one were brought into vogue by Bertin’s teacher, Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, and served as touchstones to Bertin’s pupils, notably Achille-Etna Michallon and Camille Corot.
This painting is stylistically consistent with ones that Bertin exhibited at the official salons, albeit on a small scale that appealed to bourgeois collectors. The eye is led through a cleft in the trees, beyond which an ordered succession of distinct planes culminates in distant mountains, the whole softened by an atmospheric veil of light and shade. At the lower right corner of this idyll, a group of diminutive figures is gathered around an aged poet. Although their role in the overall composition is minor, their presence animates and indeed justifies the composition according to the paradigms of the pastoral and heroic modes of landscape painting, which still retained currency when this painting was executed, in 1803. This convention, already well established in the work of the seventeenth-century masters, was codified in Roger de Piles’s treatise on painting, Cours de peinture par principes (Paris, 1708, pp. 200–205, 228–31).
Bertin served as a conduit for trends in Neoclassical landscape painting about 1800. Having studied in Paris under its most influential proponent, Pierre Henri de Valenciennes, Bertin in turn opened his atelier to pupils, the most notable of whom were Achille-Etna Michallon and Camille Corot. Bertin seems to have been preparing for a sojourn in Italy as early as 1797, but it is not known whether this trip was undertaken; he was in Rome by 1805 or early 1806 at the latest. (See Frauke Josenhans, "Sur le Motif: Painting in Nature around 1800," Getty Research Journal, no. 1 , pp.181–82, 189 n. 16.) In any event this panel does not directly reflect experience of the countryside of Italy or its ancient monuments. Rather, it is a vision of nature seen through the filter of Bertin’s seventeenth-century forebears in his chosen field, especially the painter Claude Lorrain and to a lesser extent his contemporaries Gaspard Dughet and Nicolas Poussin.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right, on rock): BERTIN / an 1803
probably Alfred Elmore, London (?until d. 1881); possibly his daughter, Edith Jane Elmore, later Mrs. Lindsay Hammond, London; sale, Bonham's, London, December 5, 1974, no. 2, as "Classical Figures in Wooded River Landscape," to Whitney; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1974)
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. 7).
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 10–11, 44, fig. 7 (color).
The back of the panel bears the partial remains of the label of its maker, Malaine, the text of which may be completed by means of the label found on the back of a comparable painting by Bertin that is also dated 1803, Landscape with Figures (oil on wood, 12 1/4 x 10 5/8 in. [30.9 x 26.8 cm], State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow, inv. 4682): [A la palette flamande / Malaine, Peinture, ci-devant / Faubourg Martin] / TIENT Magasin de Panneaux de [toutes] / grandeurs, Toiles imprimées sur chassis à / clefs, Couleurs lavées, broyées et à ve[ssie,] / Papiers et Tafetas peints, et généralem[ent] / tout ce qui concerne la Palette. / Il demeure Rue des Fossés St.-G[ermain] / l’Auxerrois, No. 225. A P[aris.] / Nota. Il envoie dans les Depa[rtements.] For missing text indicated here by brackets, see Irina Kuznetsova and Elena Sharnova, State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts: France, 16th–First Half 19th Century, Painting Collection, Moscow, 2005, pp. 286–87, no. 275.
The back of the panel is also inscribed indistinctly in black crayon(?): F[r...?] P[...?] / AE / RA. The first line of the foregoing was subsequently reinforced by another hand in black paint, but perhaps not accurately: Fa.a Prāl. Between the second and third lines, a scrap of paper is inscribed in pencil: Mr Elmore, RA. These clues are evidence that the painting formed part of the collection of the British painter Alfred Elmore, R. A. (1815–1881). Although Elmore studied in Paris in the 1830s, it has not been established whether this is relevant to his ownership of this picture. It was not included in the portion of his paintings collection that was dispersed with the estate of his son-in-law, Lindsay Hammond (Robinson, Fisher & Harding, London, April 6, 1933).
Artist: Jean Victor Bertin (French, Paris 1767–1842 Paris)Date: 1803Medium: Black chalk, gray wash, heightened with white chalk and touches of gouache, on beige paper, linedAccession: 1992.27On view in:Not on view