This composition is comprised of three horizontal bands: empty foreground, screen of trees, and sky. A closer look reveals a narrow strip of space beneath the tree canopy animated by nimble details such as the complementary curves of the path and river and the straight line of animals and human figures that begins with the cow on the left and leads the eye across the river to its far bank. These commonplace motifs may have been inspired by expanses of flat, pastoral scenery Rousseau saw in the forest of Fontainebleau, where, from 1836, he increasingly spent extended periods of time. This scenery also could have been inspired by Berry, which he visited at the suggestions of Jules Dupré in 1842, or the Landes, which he and Dupré visited together in 1844. Yet, the motifs were also pictorial devices, ones whose arrangement here and in other works is indebted to seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting. This is true as well of the deployment of light as a unifying element.
Virtually nothing is known about the origins of A River in a Meadow
—not when it was painted, the landscape that inspired it, or its first owner. It is a variation on a theme, one expressed to different effect in innumerable similar paintings, for example, The Pool (Memory of the Forest of Chambord)
of 1839 (The Met 1975.1.204
) and The Pond (La Mare)
of 1855 (The Met 1975.1.205
). In spite of what these works hold in common, they are not formulaic. Rather, they reveal the artist’s capacity for investigating nature, apprehending its variety, and recalling it afterward as he set about producing a picture. This is the quality that his friend, the writer Théophile Silvestre, highlighted in his obituary of the artist, when he wrote: “The globe of his eye is striking in its breadth and capacity, filling itself almost voraciously with light, intelligence, and space.”
Despite the insistence on a human presence, the slow workings of nature take precedence over human drama in Rousseau’s paintings. In representing them, the artist sought to instill commensurate patience in the viewer, most immediately by enlivening the picture surface through his facture. This is most obvious in the foreground of A River in a Meadow
, where recognizable forms dissolve into open patches of paint scumbled over an initial layer of brown tone. As the eye is drawn into the picture, it slowly becomes evident that human figures, animals, grasses, foliage—all the things that make up the picture—are rendered sketchily. Overall, low impasto is accentuated by the artist’s use of panel, a support favored by the Dutch masters and used frequently for cabinet pictures intended for private collectors. Together, these factors are emblematic of the years between 1836 and 1849 when Rousseau’s paintings were either rejected by the Salon jury or withheld in protest, a challenging period during which he came to be known as "Le Grand Refusé," forcing him to rely on dealers and private collectors for income. A River in a Meadow
is one of many paintings by Rousseau that cannot be traced earlier than the decade after his death in 1867. It was first recorded in 1871, four years after the artist’s death, as being in the possession of a Monsieur Delondres, Paris (see Provenance). One piece of evidence, however, places it in Paris during the artist’s lifetime: the cradle on the back of the panel bears the stamps of the supplier Hostellet; their address is given as rue de la Tour d’Auvergne, Paris, making it likely that the painting was cradled between about 1856 and 1866. In this context it is notable that from 1859 onward, there arose in the marketplace a demonstrable preference for Rousseau’s works of the 1840s over those in his latest style.Appreciation of Dutch and British Landscape Painting in France:
In Rousseau’s day, French artists could go to the Musée du Louvre in Paris to study Dutch paintings. But they were not alone in appreciating them. A generation of British landscape artists preceded them, appraising their own countryside through the lens of Dutch painting. John Constable is cited most frequently in this context because of the sensation aroused by his display of The Haywain
(1821, National Gallery, London) at the Paris Salon of 1824. Richard Parkes Bonington, who was closer in age to Rousseau, was English but active in France. There, he was crucial to the dissemination of Dutch and English naturalism and appreciated for his virtuosic sketchlike handling of paint, exemplified in works such as Roadside Halt
(The Met 45.146.1
). The pervasiveness of this trend—and its sustained appeal across several decades—can be gauged by comparing A River in a Meadow
with John Crome’s Hautbois Common, Norfolk
(The Met 89.15.14
), as they both derive from pictures like Meyndert Hobbema’s Entrance to a Village
(The Met 14.40.614
Asher Miller 2020
 This is a paraphrase, owing to the impossibility of translating Silvestre’s artful prose directly into English. Here is the original French: “Le globe de ses yeux, qui s’emplissaient avec une sorte de voracité d’intelligence lumière et d'espace, est d’une ampleur et d’un volume saisissants.” Excerpt from “Funerailles de Th. Rousseau à Barbison [sic],” Le Figaro
, December 26, 1867, p. 3.
 The ground was applied unevenly in broad strokes visible through the thinner overlying paint layers, its pebbled texture possibly resulting from the presence of metal soaps, though this has not been investigated. That the ground is white is apparent where some of the thinner overlying passages of paint appear to have been subject to abrasion in the past.
 See Scott Allan, “‘A Method Matters Little’: Rousseau’s Working Procedures as a Painter,” in Scott Allan and Edouard Kopp, Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau
, exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2016, p. 32.
 Hostellet was located at 37 rue de la Tour d’Auvergne until 1856; from 1857 it was at number 48. Pascal Labreuche, email to Asher Miller, March 24, 2020, Department of European Paintings files.
 In 1860, for example, the dealer Francis Petit presented a display of ten works by Rousseau that amounted to his first retrospective, but the artist lamented that it centered on works from the 1840s (Tableaux Tirés de Collections d’Amateurs et Exposés au Profit de la Caisse de Secours des Artistes, Peintres, Sculpteurs, Architectes et Dessinateurs
, [Galerie Martinet], 26, boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 1860). See Simon Kelly, "Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867): His Patrons and His Public," Ph.D. diss., University of Oxford, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 144–45; and S. Kelly, “The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau and Their Market,” in Andreas Burmester, Christoph Heilmann, and Michael F. Zimmerman, eds., Barbizon: Malerei der Natur—Natur der Malerei
(Munich, 1999), pp. 425–26, 434 n. 57.
 As recounted by his early biographers, Rousseau began copying in the Louvre in 1827, a practice that probably continued until at least 1831. See Philippe Burty, “Les Études peintes de Th. Rousseau,” in Maîtres et Petits Maîtres
(Paris, 1877), pp. 73–74 (initially published as Notice des Etudes Peintes par M. Théodore Rousseau exposées au Cercle des Arts
, exh. cat., Paris, 1867).