Constant Troyon was born just outside Paris at Sèvres, a center of porcelain manufacturing, on August 28, 1810. He first learned to paint as a porcelain decorator from Denis-Désiré Riocreux (1791–1872). This trade was foundational for innumerable painters, from Troyon’s contemporary Jules Dupré to Auguste Renoir, thirty years his junior. Like other painters of his generation who were attracted to the genre of landscape, Troyon drew inspiration from seventeenth-century Dutch pictures and more recent trends in British naturalism. Through his friend Camille Roqueplan, he encountered such artists as Dupré, Paul Huet, and Théodore Rousseau, all core affiliates of the nascent Barbizon school. Troyon began to exhibit at the official state-sponsored exhibition known as the Paris Salon in 1833. Although he was in a vanguard of landscape artists attuned to the visceral immediacy of nature, an 1847 trip to The Netherlands and Belgium changed the course of Troyon’s career. From then on, he devoted himself largely to animal subjects. These garnered nearly unanimous worldwide acclaim. Even critics who praised Rosa Bonheur as an animalière
(see, for example, The Met 87.25
) found her wanting by comparison, citing Troyon’s adeptness at producing convincing rural settings for his animal pictures, rooted in his experience as a landscape painter. Troyon was a celebrated figure when he died in Paris on March 16, 1865. However, his stature, like that of many other artists who specialized in animal subjects, faltered in the twentieth century. The most recent monographs devoted to him were published in the nineteenth century: Henri Dumesnil’s Troyon: Souvenirs Intimes
(Paris, 1888) and Arthur Hustin’s Constant Troyon
(Paris, 1893). In addition to entries in standard biographical dictionaries he is a staple of surveys on nineteenth-century art and Barbizon painting in particular (see References).The Painting:
The subject of this painting is characteristic of the commonplace rural scenery in which Troyon specialized. From the vantage point of a bend in a simple dirt track on the side of a hill, the road descends from left, where a man and child emerge at its crest, and dips to the right, where a woman in a bonnet seen from behind recedes from the viewer. The orientation of the canvas is suited to these vertical elements, also including the attenuated trees. Troyon adopted the dual perspective from seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting, which French artists of his generation studied for naturalistic alternatives to more formal, Italianate models favored by the state-sponsored Académie des Beaux-Arts well into the nineteenth century.
In technique and effect, the palpitating brushwork employed by Troyon to depict the penetration of brilliant sunlight through the tree canopy was rarely equaled in the mid-1840s, when this work was probably painted, and it anticipates a central concern of the Impressionists a generation later. In fact, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne would take advantage of the structural elements that underly Troyon’s composition in landscape paintings made at Pontoise, northwest of Paris, in the 1870s.
As with much of Troyon’s early production, the origins of this painting remain untraced. Its first known owner was William H. Stewart (1820–1897), an American expatriate who lived in Paris, and whose estate sale was held in New York in 1898. Where and when he acquired it are unknown.
Asher Miller 2023