Rousseau maintained a lifelong commitment to painting the outdoors, which was rooted in youthful excursions to the countryside surrounding Paris, where he was raised. At thirteen, he kept a sketchbook during an extended stay in his father’s native Franche-Comté region. A maternal cousin, the landscape painter Alexandre Pau de Saint-Martin (1782–1850), provided early lessons and encouragement in drawing. Formal training began about 1826, with enrollment in the atelier of Charles Rémond, who had recently returned from a sojourn in Rome as the French Academy’s laureate in the category of historical landscape painting, or paysage historique
. This tutelage lasted two years or perhaps more. In 1827 or 1828, he also began to study with history painter Guillaume Guillon Lethière (1760–1832), former director of the French Academy in Rome. Rousseau frequented the Louvre, too, preferring the naturalism of seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painters to the idealizing mode of their French counterparts, above all Claude Lorrain, who served as the model for Rémond’s academic pedagogy. Complementing Rousseau’s interests in earlier painting were the forthright rural views of Britain by John Constable, an artistic sensation in 1820s Paris. Although Rousseau was positioned to develop the skills necessary to succeed as a painter, he did not make it to the second round of the quadrennial competition for landscape painting held in the spring of 1829. A breakthrough of sorts came soon afterward, with a six-month sketching trip to the Auvergne in 1830 that enabled him to develop an artistic voice through a direct connection with the natural world. This would emerge as the principal quality of his paintings to make him a central figure of the Romantic movement.The Painting:
Rousseau was attracted to panoramic vistas like the one seen here throughout his career. As he scanned the scenery before him, he was especially alert to features of the landscape that prompted his eye to stop and shift again, a characteristic fully evident in the present study, or étude
. It is the record of a concerted act of looking and was executed at least partially out of doors. But it was conceived neither as a quickly painted sketch nor as a finished painting intended for public consumption, or tableau
. In the early nineteenth century, studies such as this one were generally produced as part of a pedagogical practice whose immediate aim was to channel nature directly, to capture a priori
experience. The eventual aim of landscape painting was to provide a setting for human activity, above all, dramatic, historical, or literary scenes of moral import—the paysages historiques
for which the Prix de Rome had recently been established.
The subject of this study has not been identified conclusively. The work may have been shown in an exhibition held at the Cercle des Arts, Paris, in 1867, which featured early painted studies that the artist had long considered private. He had released some of these to friends and collectors over the years, but the majority were from a group of seventy that he sold to the dealers Paul Durand-Ruel and Hector Brame in 1866. Information in the accompanying catalogue was provided by critic and collector Philippe Burty in consultation with the artist. They were on close terms. For this reason, the publication is considered a reliable source, though the passage of up to forty years’ time since the execution of the earliest works may have taken its toll on the artist’s memory, and few paintings known today have been linked unquestionably to those described in the checklist. This study may be the work described by Burty as “general view of the plain of Saint Ouen seen from the Batignolles; the hills defining the horizon are those of the forest of Montmorency,” dated to 1826 or 1827. Alternately, it may be the one described as “Edge of the village of Verberie, on the road to Compiègne; the road, which passes before an old convent transformed into a farm, turns to the right as it bypasses a mound with trees,” dated 1826. Whatever its subject, the majority of scholars agree that this work was made in the later 1820s, though perhaps not quite as early as the dates provided by Rousseau to Burty for the two paintings described above, some forty years after they were painted.Rousseau’s Naturalism and Artistic Vision:
In one sense, Rousseau took in the prospect seen here in its entirety directly, at a glance: witness the boldly brushed-in sky and the windswept grass in the foreground, also rendered in broad strokes. What lies in between evidently revealed itself slowly as an elaborate arrangement of more minutely painted buildings, walls, and enclosures; trellises, screens of shrubbery, hillsides, and trees; and zigzagging roads. Especially notable are the parallel picket fences bordering the road that recedes diagonally toward the left, where it disappears behind low trees at the edge of the picture, and where it must intersect with the second wall-lined road that recedes diagonally to the right. In contrast to the open spaces on the near side of this second wall is the village on its far side, seen as a patchwork of partially glimpsed masonry, roofs, chimneys, and tree tops, with a few surfaces reflecting the full brightness of the sun. Opposite the town, at the right side of the picture, is a low hill accentuated with poplars; through the cleft between the town and the hill, the valley opens up toward wooded highlands in the distance. One or another motif comprising the present view recur in other early studies (see The Met 03.28
It would seem that Rousseau depicted the landscape just as he observed it, but also that he was attuned to its inherent geometry, employing it in understated fashion to lay out the perspective of a deceptively informal composition. In this respect, A Village in a Valley
bears an affinity to studies that Rémond had brought back with him from Rome, works that Rousseau almost certainly had access to, for example, View of the Basilica of Constantine from the Palatine, Rome
(The Met 2003.42.47
) and View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine from the Palatine
(The Met 2003.42.48
). Rousseau would continually develop and refine his own approach to perspective, arriving at a deeply personal pictorial syntax, which he called “la planimétrie
.” This feature of Rousseau’s art would come into its own, fully integrated, in finished paintings of the 1840s and 50s, such as A Meadow Bordered by Trees
(The Met 11.45.5
Asher Miller 2020
 For the dismembered sketchbook, which Rousseau used in 1825 and 1834, see Michel Schulman with the collaboration of Marie Bataillès and Virginie Sérafino, Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre graphique
(Paris, 1997), nos 1–49. Many of the sheets are in the Minneapolis Institute of Art (82.104.1–30).
 The taxonomy of oil painting in the context of academic practice has been discussed widely in the literature since Albert Boime’s The Academy and French Painting in the Nineteenth Century
(London, 1971). For an especially lucid treatment of Rousseau’s understanding of the subject, see Allan 2016, pp. 23–43.
 Anne Wagner, in a letter to John Wisdom, May 18, 1979, Department of European Paintings files, based the identification on Burty’s description of Paris 1867, no. 2: “Vue générale de la plaine de Saint-Ouen, prise des Batignolles. Les collines qui ferment l’horizon sont celles de la forêt de Montmorency,” as dated “1826 à 1827” and with the dimensions given as “L. 23 c.; H. 09 c.” Wagner noted that the number 2 is inscribed (in pencil) on the stretcher in a nineteenth-century hand; she stated that the dimensions supplied by Burty were surely a misprint, and that in an earlier frame it measured 23 x 29 cm, contending that these must have been the dimensions that Burty intended. The identification was accepted implicitly by Noon (2002), who dated the picture ca. 1828 on the basis of style, noting the incorporation of lessons learned from Dutch masters in the Louvre, specifically Salomon van Ruysdael in the “broad, but opaque and chalky, coloration of the sky.”
 Kurlander 2014, citing Burty’s description of Paris 1867, no. 3, “Sortie du Village de Verberie, sur la route de Compiègne. La route, qui passe devant un ancien couvent transformé en ferme, tourne à droite en contournant un monticule boisé,” dated to 1826, with dimensions as “L. 30 c.; H 23 c.,” that is, very nearly the same as the present work.
 Rousseau may have copied studies by Rémond, as suggested, for example, by a comparison of the artists’ respective renditions of View of the Sèvres Bridge from the Terrace of Saint-Cloud
(both in private collections); see Allan 2016, pp. 23–24, figs. 20 and 21.
 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 Burty, “Théodore Rousseau,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts
24 (April 1, 1868), p. 315.