This painting was entitled Matinée de commencement d'été, dans la forêt de Fontainebleau
, or An Early Summer Morning in the Forest of Fontainebleau
, when it was exhibited as a work of 1861 in the exhibition Les études peintes par M. Théodore Rousseau
, held at the Cercle des Arts in Paris in June 1867, some six months before the artist died on December 22, 1867. The rocky terrain seems to be an accurate transcription of a specific view within the Fontainebleau Forest, perhaps the Gorge of Apremont, known for its large boulders. However, given that the title was almost certainly supplied, if not approved, by the artist for the exhibition, it may be understood to convey more than the sum of naturalistic details rendered in the picture. In fact, the qualities of light, attributable to atmospheric conditions and the time of day, as well as to the cycle of seasons, exert a force at least equal to topography, geography, and flora. Rousseau forwent specificity of place to emphasize transient effects achieved by means of a slow and deliberate application of paint. Rousseau’s technique in this picture, in which he built up a lively, light-filled surface with delicate touches of translucent glazes, is characteristic of his mature style. In this respect it is comparable to Glade of the Reine Blanche in the Forest of Fontainebleau
, of about 1860 (Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia, 71.2054).
There is typically staffage—a human presence—in Rousseau’s compositions. Here, a man follows a donkey up a path cresting a hill. The lone traveler in a wild setting is frequently encountered in Northern European landscape painting from Albrecht Altdorfer in the early sixteenth century to seventeenth-century Dutch scenes Rousseau admired and reinterpreted in his own work. But, in Rousseau’s figure, as well as in the discrete areas of contrasting grays, greens, browns, and blues, there may also be evidence of another factor entirely: the artist’s incipient interest in Japanese woodblock prints, which Edouard Kopp has discussed in connection to the artist’s drawing and painting practice.
It is not recorded when An Early Summer Morning in the Forest of Fontainebleau
was acquired by the artist’s friend and biographer Alfred Sensier, who sold it in 1872. Later, it was purchased by the German-born American art dealer William Schaus, Sr. (1820–1892), who also owned The Met’s The Edge of the Woods at Monts-Girard, Fontainebleau Forest
. At Schaus’s estate sale, it was sold to Benjamin Altman (1840–1913), one of The Met’s most visionary early benefactors. Apart from his legendary New York department store, Altman is perhaps best remembered for the legacy of Dutch paintings he bequeathed to the Museum, including not only figure paintings by Rembrandt but also signal works in the genre of landscape by Aelbert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael, and Meyndert Hobbema. Yet, he also collected works by artists of his own time who revered those figures: Camille Corot, Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña, Charles-François Daubigny, Anton Mauve, and Rousseau.
There is an engraving of this picture by Brunet-Debaines.
Asher Miller 2022
 See Simon Kelly, “The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau and their Market," in Andreas Burmester, Christoph Heilmann and Michael F. Zimmermann eds., Barbizon: Malerei der Natur—Natur der Malerei
, Munich, 1999, p. 425. For the most recent cataloguing of the painting, see Scott Allan in Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau
, exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2016, p. 178, no. 63.
 Edouard Kopp in Unruly Nature
, 2016, p. 18.
 See Silvestre 1873.