Approximately three miles separate the village of Barbizon, where Rousseau settled in 1847, and this site at the edge of Fontainebleau Forest. Romantic artists had long been attracted by Arbonne’s rocky outcroppings, boulders, and strange, twisted trees. This painting, with its heightened color, strong contrasts of hue, and varied textures, is characteristic of forest sunsets painted during the final decade of Rousseau’s career. Throughout the composition the wood panel shows through the paint layer, its warm brown surface serving as a midtone.
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Title:Sunset near Arbonne
Artist:Théodore Rousseau (French, Paris 1812–1867 Barbizon)
Medium:Oil on wood
Dimensions:25 1/4 x 39 in. (64.1 x 99.1 cm)
Credit Line:Bequest of Collis P. Huntington, 1900
Approximately three miles separate the village of Barbizon, where Rousseau settled in 1847, and this site at the edge of Fontainebleau Forest. (He had already worked in Fontainebleau since the late 1820s.) Romantic artists had long been attracted by Arbonne’s rocky outcroppings, boulders, and strange, twisted trees. This painting, with its heightened color, strong contrasts of hue, and varied textures, is characteristic of forest sunsets painted during the final decade of Rousseau’s career. Throughout the composition, the wood panel shows through the paint layer, its warm brown surface serving as a midtone. Despite the picture’s eerie strangeness, Rousseau did not abandon his habitual practice of inserting staffage: a figure near the center of the composition, on the path as it turns right behind a large rock, discretely establishes a sense of scale and grounds the scene in reality.
By Rousseau’s own standard, the painting is unfinished. That he left unfinished paintings in his studio when he died, this one included, is unremarkable. What has not been satisfactorily explained, however, is the presence of the artist’s signature on many such pictures. Was this a sign that he considered these paintings “complete” works of art, even if they were unfinished? Simon Kelly (1999) has suggested that Rousseau considered these “private” works, a plausible explanation when one considers the artist’s commitment to process. He characteristically worked and reworked paintings over a period of years, so it would be understandable for him to keep works at hand that represented a stage in his process that he wanted to preserve until, perhaps, he saw a way forward.
the artist, Barbizon (until d. 1867; his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 27–May 2, 1868, probably no. 47, "Hauteurs du camp d'Arbonne [Fontainebleau] – Esquisse," 1862–64, as 64 x 106 cm, for 530 Fr to Sensier); Alfred Sensier, Paris (1868–72; sold May 17 for Fr 4,000 to Durand-Ruel]; [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1872–at least 1874; stock no. 1521]; ?Fremyn, Paris (until 1876; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, May 10, 1876, no. 53, as "Paysage. Soleil couchant"); Robert Graves, Brooklyn (until d. 1886; his estate sale, American Art Association, New York, February 11, 1887, no. 166, as "Sunset at D'Arbonne," for $5,100 to Huntington); Collis P. Huntington, New York (1887–d. 1900; his bequest to The Met with life interest to his widow, Arabella D. Huntington, later [from 1913] Mrs. Henry E. Huntington, 1900–d. 1924; life interest to their son, Archer Milton Huntington, 1924–terminated in 1925)
New York. Union League Club. Winter 1887, no catalogue [see Montezuma 1888].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscape Paintings," May 14–September 30, 1934, no. 39 (as "Sunset; D'Arbonne").
Paris. Palais National des Arts. "Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français," July–September 1937, no. 407 (as "Paysage d'Arbonne. Soleil couchant").
Newark Museum. "19th-Century French and American Paintings from the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 9–May 15, 1946, no. 25 (as "Sunset: D'Arbonne").
Winnipeg Art Gallery. "French Pre-Impressionist Painters of the Nineteenth Century," April 10–May 9, 1954, no. 58 (as "Sunset, d'Arbonne").
San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Barbizon Revisited," September 27–November 4, 1962, no. 100 (as "Sunset near Arbonne").
Toledo Museum of Art. "Barbizon Revisited," November 20–December 27, 1962, no. 100.
Cleveland Museum of Art. "Barbizon Revisited," January 15–February 24, 1963, no. 100.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Barbizon Revisited," March 14–April 28, 1963, no. 100.
New York. Wildenstein. "Romantics and Realists," April 7–May 7, 1966, no. 67.
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867," November 29, 1967–February 12, 1968, no. 54.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Impressionist Epoch," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Barbizon: French Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century," February 4–May 10, 1992, no catalogue.
Haus der Kunst München. "Corot, Courbet und die Maler von Barbizon: 'Les amis de la nature'," February 4–April 21, 1996, no. B 140 (as "Sonnenuntergang über der Heide von Arbonne").
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons. "L'école de Barbizon: Peindre en plein air avant l'impressionnisme," June 22–September 9, 2002, no. 101 (as "Soleil couchant sur la lande d'Arbonne").
Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau," June 21–September 11, 2016, no. 65.
Copenhagen. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek. "Unruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau," October 13, 2016–January 8, 2017, no. 65.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT.
Armand Silvestre. Galerie Durand-Ruel, recueil d'estampes, gravées à l'eau-forte. Paris, 1873, pl. CCX (etching by Gustave Greux), as "Soleil couchant sur la lande d'Arbonne," 63 x 99 cm.
Walter Rowlands. "Art Sales in America." Art Journal, n.s., (1887), p. 294, notes that it brought [the American equivalent of] £1,020 at the Graves sale in 1887.
"The Graves Gallery: Some Notable Pictures Belonging to the Estate of a Brooklyn Collector." Brooklyn Eagle (February 2, 1887), p. 2, states that Graves paid $30,000 for this painting.
Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 16 (March 1887), p. 74.
Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 19 (September 1888), p. 75, asserts that this picture was reworked by another hand after being sold by Durand-Ruel, who "saw it last winter at the Union League Club"; states that the correct title is "Soleil Couchant (lande d'Arbonne)".
Bryson Burroughs. "The Collis P. Huntington Collection Comes to the Museum." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (June 1925), p. 142.
Charles Sterling inChefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, p. 197, no. 407.
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.
Robert L. Herbert. Barbizon Revisited. Exh. cat., California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. Boston, 1962, pp. 48, 177, no. 100, ill. p. 59 (color), states that its present surface "dates from about 1865, but it was probably worked on over a period of many years" and that it was included in the artist's estate sale.
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. 83–84, ill., date it about 1855; note that a recent cleaning has restored "its original appearance of a broad sketch".
Hélène Toussaint inThéodore Rousseau, 1812–1867. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1967, pp. 80–81, no. 54, ill., calls it "Soleil couchant sur la lande d'Arbonne" and states that it was probably finished about 1863; discusses the influence of Japanese art in this picture.
Jean Bouret. L'École de Barbizon et le paysage français au XIXe siècle. Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1972, p. 271, ill. p. 213, dates it about 1863.
John Minor Wisdom Jr. inThe Forest of Fontainbleau [sic], Refuge of Reality: French Landscape 1800 to 1870. Exh. cat., Shepherd Gallery. New York, 1972, unpaginated.
Hélène Toussaint inHommage à Corot: Peintures et dessins des collections françaises. Exh. cat., Orangerie des Tuileries. Paris, 1975, p. 88, under no. 78.
Lydie Huyghe in René Huyghe. La Relève de l'imaginaire. La Peinture française au XIXe siècle: Réalisme, romantisme. Paris, 1976, p. 470.
Antoine Terrasse. L'Univers de Théodore Rousseau. Paris, 1976, pp. 62, 64.
Hans-Peter Bühler. Die Schule von Barbizon: Französische Landschaftmalerei im 19. Jahrhundert. Munich, 1979, fig. 104, dates it about 1855.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 417, ill.
Claudia Denk 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, pp. 328–29, no. B 140, ill. (color), dates it about 1863.
Simon Kelly. "Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867), His Patrons and His Public." PhD diss., Oxford University, 1996, vol. 1, pp. ix, 94–95; vol. 2, pl. 50, as "Soleil Couchant sur la Lande d'Arbonne"; dates it 1862–64; notes Sensier's penchant for the artist's seemingly spontaneous, sketchlike works, such as this one.
Michel Schulman with the collaboration of Marie Bataillès in and Virginie Sérafino inThéodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre graphique. Paris, 1997, ill. p. 49 (color).
Michel Schulman with Marie Bataillès. Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Paris, 1999, p. 323, no. 636, ill. (color), calls it "Soleil couchant sur la lande d'Arbonne" and dates it about 1863.
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. 423–24, 433 n. 41, colorpl. 80, calls it "Sunset on the Plain of Arbonne (Soleil couchant sur la lande d'Arbonne)" and dates it to the early 1860s; describes it as a "private work" and notes that Rousseau did not exhibit it; states that Alfred Sensier bought it at the artist's 1868 estate sale, adding that he preferred its loose handling to the more meticulous facture characteristic of the 1850s.
Greg M. Thomas. Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. Princeton, 2000, pp. 25, 71, 182, 257 n. 95, fig. 86, dates it about 1840s [erroneously cites Nicholas Green's dating of MMA 25.110.52 to 1844 as evidence for the date of this picture]; identifies the site as south of Barbizon, between Franchard and the village of Arbonne.
Mary G. Morton. "New Discoveries: Théodore Rousseau’s Forest of Fontainebleau." Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide 7 (Spring 2008) [http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/spring08/107-new-discoveries-theodore-rousseaus-forest-of-fontainebleau], cites it and “Forest of Fontainebleau” (ca. 1849–1855; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles) as examples of what Nicholas Green has called dessin-peint or ébauche, a type of painting developed by Rousseau and Jules Dupré in 1844, which with its large scale and rough handling marked a radical break with academic distinctions between preparatory and finished works.
Scott Allan inUnruly Nature: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2016, p. 79 n. 146, p. 179, no. 65, colorpl. 65, states that instead of no. 47, it could also have been no. 41, "Rochers dans la plaine de Barbizon / Soleil couchant (ébauche)" in Rousseau's 1868 atelier sale.
Simon Kelly. Théodore Rousseau and the Rise of the Modern Art Market: An Avant-Garde Landscape Painter in Nineteenth-Century France. London, 2021, pp. 227–28.
Thomas (2000) identifies this view as a plain south of Barbizon, between Franchard and the village of Arbonne.
There is an etching after the painting by Gustave Greux (see Silvestre 1873).
In addition to the painting mentioned in the Provenance, Alfred Sensier bought another work of comparable description at the 1868 Rousseau estate sale, no. 41, "Rochers dans la plaine de Barbizon – Soleil couchant (ébauche)," 1862, 69 x 98 cm, for 620 Fr.
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