Rousseau undertook frequent sketching expeditions in the French provinces. In 1844, along with fellow landscapist Jules Dupré (1811–1889), he visited the Landes region in the southwest, where he made works distinctive for their penetrating observation and careful execution. This canvas could have been painted later in the 1840s or in the 1850s. In the latter decade Rousseau excelled at arranging distant planes in parallel strips, a compositional device that he called "planimetric."
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Title:A Meadow Bordered by Trees
Artist:Théodore Rousseau (French, Paris 1812–1867 Barbizon)
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:16 3/8 x 24 3/8 in. (41.6 x 61.9 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Robert Graham Dun, 1900
The point of view is the edge of a meadow. The nearest section—the picture’s bottom register—is in deep shadow, while everything beyond is sunlit, humid, tempered by the partly cloudy sky. This suggests that the spot from which the painter observed the scene was shaded by clouds or by trees behind him, a pictorial strategy that enfolds, by extension, the viewer. The resulting sense of salubrious escape was undoubtedly part of the picture’s appeal to its early owners, who are likely to have been bourgeois city-dwellers. Two figures, one a woman tending a cow, pause on a path running through the meadow before entering a copse of trees. Beyond that is a winding river plain, which provides an opening to a village with its church steeple on the horizon. From the mid-1840s onward, Rousseau paintings employed the arrangement of distant planes in parallel strips, as seen here, as a compositional device that he called “planimetric.”
In his studio, Rousseau excelled at producing paintings—examples like this were not painted out of doors—distinguished by penetrating observation and careful execution. Details tend to become increasingly legible upon close examination as part of a process that, paradoxically, also reveals the brushwork to be more painterly than it seems when the picture is first viewed from afar.
The earliest documentation of this placid scene dates to April 28, 1873, when London dealer P. L. Everard sold it at an auction held at Hôtel Drouot, in Paris, as Pâturage; prairie de Normandie, or Pasture; a Meadow in Normandy. That was a little over five years after Rousseau died, on December 22, 1867. Because it was not part of the artist’s estate sale, the painter must have sold it during his lifetime, but when and to whom are open to question. The same is true for the location depicted. It is not possible to state with certainty whether an actual place is represented or merely evoked—or if it was in Normandy. Gaps in information like these are endemic to Rousseau’s studio paintings and to landscapes by Barbizon artists in general. Scholars’ efforts to identify the locations depicted in such works, linked to the dates of the artist’s sketching trips throughout France, have been rewarded only occasionally.
Scholars have proposed different dates for the painting: about 1845 (Robert L. Herbert, verbal opinion, June 7, 1963); tentatively, to the late 1840s (Nicholas Green, verbal opinion, August 28, 1979); 1847–52 (Schulman 1999). Simon Kelly (1999) dates it to the 1850s, noting that the meticulous facture is characteristic of that decade, when paintings like this one were successful with collectors and critics. Kelly also observes that while that feature is reminiscent of the seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painter Meyndert Hobbema, the composition’s “geometrical underpinning” is “very much his [Rousseau’s] own.”
Asher Miller 2022
 The term la planimétrie appeared in print the year following Rousseau’s death, in the biographical study by his friend Philippe Burty (1830–1890), where it is defined as “the scrupulous observation of the linear value of horizontal planes” ("l’observation scrupuleuse de la valeur linéaire des plans horizontaux"); see “Théodore Rousseau,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 24 (April 1, 1868), p. 315.
Inscription: Signed (lower left): TH.Rousseau.
?[P. L. Everard and Co., London, until 1873; sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 28, 1873, no. 58, as "Pâturage; prairie de Normandie," for Fr 11,000]; [Isidore Montaignac, Paris, until 1899; sold on April 8 for Fr 88,000 to Boussod-Valadon]; [Boussod, Valadon & Cie, Paris, 1899; stock no. 25849, as "Prairie bordée d'arbres. Village au fond"; sold on August 19, for Fr 156,000, to Dun]; Robert Graham Dun, New York (1899–d. 1900; life interest to his widow, Mary D. Bradford Dun, 1900–d. 1910)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 150.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "French Painting from David to Courbet," February 1–March 5, 1950, no. 87 (as "Meadow Bordered by Trees").
New York. American Federation of Arts. "A Landscape View of 19th Century France (circulating exhibition)," September 1, 1954–1957, no catalogue?
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Barbizon: French Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century," February 4–May 10, 1992, no catalogue.
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.
P. W. "Sammlungen und Ausstellungen." Kunstchronik 12 (January 24, 1901), p. 200.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Recent Accessions." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (April 1911), p. 98, ill. p. 101, as "Meadow, Bordered by Trees".
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. 80–81, ill., suggest the influence of seventeenth-century painters such as Philips Koninck in the arrangement of distant planes into parallel strips.
Nicolai Cikovsky Jr. George Inness. New York, 1971, p. 31, fig. 9, compares it to Inness's "Clearing Up" (1860; George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Springfield, Mass.).
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 416, ill.
Simon Kelly. "Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867), His Patrons and His Public." PhD diss., Oxford University, 1996, vol. 1, pp. xiii, 222–23; vol. 2, pl. 114, dates it to the mid-1850s.
Michel Schulman with Marie Bataillès. Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Paris, 1999, p. 241, no. 420, ill., dates it 1847–52.
Simon Kelly. "The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau and their Market." Barbizon: Malerei der Natur—Natur der Malerei. Ed. Andreas Burmester et al. Munich, 1999, pp. 423, 432 n. 33, fig. 2, dates it to the 1850s; states that its meticulous facture is characteristic of that decade and observes that while this feature is reminiscent of Hobbema, the composition's "geometrical underpinning" is "very much his own"; comments on the success of such pictures among collectors and critics.
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