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 harvesting, 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 the Universal Exposition of 1855.
Use your arrow keys to navigate the tabs below, and your tab key to choose an item
Title:The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest
Artist:Théodore Rousseau (French, Paris 1812–1867 Barbizon)
The early years of Rousseau’s career as a landscape painter were by turns encouraging and frustrating. Even though the artist cultivated private collectors and patrons—royalty among them—and garnered critical praise, the jury of the Paris Salon was capricious in its acceptance of his submissions, and the stamp of official success eluded him. From 1841 he stopped participating altogether, and by mid-decade he was popularly known as le grand refusé. New recognition, and new willingness to participate in state-sponsored exhibitions, arrived with changes to the jury following the Revolution of 1848. The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest was painted during this period. After working on the large panel for two years, Rousseau dated it, a rare gesture signifying that he considered it particularly successful. The painting made its exhibition debut in Rousseau’s triumphant display of thirteen pictures at the Universal Exposition of 1855, on the occasion of which Rousseau was awarded a first-class medal, as were fellow Barbizon painters Camille Corot and Constant Troyon.
As related by Rousseau’s friend and biographer Alfred Sensier, Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard represents part of the woods in Fontainebleau Forest where the trees—some hundreds of years old—were vulnerable to harvesting, a practice the artist bitterly opposed. The theme of husbandry is a mainstay of Rousseau’s pictures: the dynamism of this landscape, the stature of the trees, and their perilous status find a foil in the diminutive figure of a stooped woman who traverses the scene at the top of the path. 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. Due in part, perhaps, to Rousseau’s lobbying efforts, in 1853—perhaps while the painting was underway—Emperor Napoleon III set aside a portion of the forest as a preserve for the first time. Earlier in 1853, Rousseau’s first painting depicting a clear-cut hillside, Lisière d’un Bois Coupé, Forêt de Compiègne, or Clearing near the Village of Pierrefonds in the Compiègne Forest, of 1833 (Hamburger Kunsthalle, HK-5507), was sold with the collection of the late Ferdinand Philippe, Duc d’Orléans (1810–1842) at auction in Paris; he had acquired the canvas directly from the artist and lent it to the Salon of 1834.
Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard’s first owner was Victor Papeleu (1810–1881), a Belgian landscape painter residing in Barbizon who had studied with Achille Benouville and Jules Dupré; when he acquired it is unknown. It passed through several Belgian and Dutch collections before it was purchased by the German-born New York art dealer William Schaus, Sr. (1820–1892). When The Met purchased it from Schaus’s estate sale it became the first painting by Rousseau to enter the Museum’s collection.
A version of this composition, also dated 1854 but painted on canvas and measuring 21 1/8 by 32 inches (53.6 x 81.3 cm), is in the Muragame Museum, Japan.
Asher Miller 2022
 See http://www.aaff.fr/index.php/la-foret/histoire, online resource consulted October 26, 2022. See also Thomas 2000, esp. “Appendix B: Petition to Napoleon III ,” pp. 214–17; and Simon Kelly’s review of Thomas 2000 in Burlington Magazine 142 (October 2000), pp. 643–44, which takes issue with Thomas’s assertions.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): TH.Rousseau- 1854
Victor 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 The Met)
Paris. Palais des Beaux-Arts. "Exposition universelle de 1855," 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.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence," March 12–July 29, 2018, unnumbered cat.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT.
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.
Emile Michel. "Théodore Rousseau et les peintres de Barbison [sic]." Revue des deux mondes, 5th per., 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".
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 86.
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.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 417, ill.
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.
Joyce Carol Polistena. The Religious Paintings of Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863): The Initiator of the Style of Modern Religious Art. Lewiston, New York, 2008, p. 211.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 434, no. 342, ill. pp. 352, 434 (color).
Edouard Kopp in Scott Allan and Edouard Kopp. Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2016, pp. 53, 57 n. 73, fig. 50 (color), notes that Rousseau's paintings, especially his recent ones such as this picture, were enthusiastically received at the Universal Exposition of 1855 in Paris.
Stephen F. Eisenman inImpressionism: The Art of Landscape. Ed. Ortrud Westheider and Michael Philipp. Exh. cat., Museum Barberini, Potsdam. Munich, 2017, p. 52, states that it was painted in part to bring the French public to preserve Fontainebleau forest, which was shrinking from loggers, and that Rousseau successfully petitioned Louis Napoleon to preserve and protect a section of the forest in perpetuity in this regard.
Colta Ives. Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2018, pp. 30, 188, fig. 26 (color).
Simon Kelly. Théodore Rousseau and the Rise of the Modern Art Market: An Avant-Garde Landscape Painter in Nineteenth-Century France. London, 2021, pp. 36, 111–12, fig. 1.15 (color).
The Met Collection API is where all makers, creators, researchers, and dreamers can connect to the most up-to-date data and public domain images for The Met collection. Open Access data and public domain images are available for unrestricted commercial and noncommercial use without permission or fee.
We continue to research and examine historical and cultural context for objects in The Met collection. If you have comments or questions about this object record, please complete and submit this form. The Museum looks forward to receiving your comments.