Return to Barbizon (2010)

Even as I was making my final studies during my original “pilgrimage” to Barbizon in July 2007, I was formulating plans to return in the future, but this time to seek authorization from the ONF (Office Nationale de Foret) to drive my van into the heart of the Forest of Fontainebleau using the forestry workers’ tracks. By this means I hoped to become more intimate with this mysterious forest and maybe pick up some of those spiritual “echoes through time” from the painters who worked there during the early part of the 19th Century.

Why am I drawn to the Barbizon painters more than the Impressionists?



There is a saying “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.”

The Barbizon Painters never quite arrived at a definitive destination as the Impressionists did.

They are a far more disparate group and less sure of themselves than the Impressionists, still seeking rather than asserting and their work is consequently more fragile, diverse, questioning, individualistic and inconsistent in style and quality, as they each strive to achieve “Truth to Nature” in their own way

Traces of the ideas of “The Enlightenment” and the Romantic Movement are still evident in their work, and this, combined with their concern for the integrity and identity of their subject matter, separates them from the Impressionists for whom the subject is far less important than the manner.

It is their unpretentious artistic modesty and the qualities of curiosity, fallibility and lack of dogma which draw me to the Barbizon Painters.   No self obsession or sensationalism here!

Barbizon. The studio of Jean-Francoise Millet 1814 -1867

In Millet’s studio. 9 July 2010

Millet’s studio 9 July 2010

Chailly Cemetery. At the grave of Theodore Rousseau 1812 1867

What is the relevance of the Barbizon Painters today?

The current artificial world, into which we are drifting, of “virtual reality”, materialism, instant communications and ever accelerating technological development, driven almost solely by an insatiable desire for profit and sensual gratification, is slowly dehumanizing us, eroding our capacity for direct, personal and spiritual communication either with each other or with the natural environment from which we sprang.
Perhaps a re-examination of the unpretentious innocence of the Barbizon Painters, with their sometimes simplistic and even naïve search for truth to nature and the dignity of mankind could be one positive way of countering this dehumanization and reminding ourselves that we are a product of and part of Nature, and that respect for nature is essential for our survival.

Conclusions drawn from this expedition

Regarding my own work in the Forests of Fontainebleau and Barbizon, my intention was not to imitate the work of the Barbizon Painters in technique or manner (much though I admire them) but to pursue my own artistic aims of “Direct Response” and technical experimentation using their source material, their open minded curiosity and my own sense of history.
In spite of losing a considerable amount of time organizing repairs to my van which was damaged by two criminals who I (fortunately) disturbed in the act of breaking in, I managed to produce 48 pieces, drawings, small gouaches and large oils. Due to my closer involvement with the environment, these differed quite dramatically from those I produced on my first visit in 2007.
My intention was to focus particularly on composition and texture and this lead me into an unanticipated intensive study of the interaction between the two main elements of the forest, namely Trees and Rocks.
As I worked, it came into my mind (time and other projects permitting) to make studies contrasting the same (but harsher) two interactive elements of the equally mysterious forests of North Wales and to combine the two bodies of work in one large exhibition.

1.50pm. 12 July 2010. Clump of trees, conifer and beech. Fontainebleau Forest. Charcoal and ink A3

8.40pm. 10 July 2010. Oak Trees near Gorge de Franchard, Fontainebleau Forest. Charcoal and ink A3

2.00pm. 18 July 2010. Rocks and boulders near the Site de la Cauche aux Merciers. Fontainebleau. A3

4.25pm. 18 July 2010. Large boulders in the Forest of Fontainebleau near Site de la Cauche aux Merciers. A3

9.30pm. 7 July 2010. Setting Sun in the Forest of Fontainebleau. Gouache A4

3.50pm. 8 July 2010. View against the light, Forest of Fontainebleau, Rte du Tiercelet. Gouache A4

9.50am. 8 July 2010. Trackway 104 ‘Rte du Tiercelet’ Forest of Fontainebleau. Gouache A4

6.25pm. 9 July 2010. Fontainebleau Forest, Rte du cul de Chaudron, Plaine de Macherin. Gouache A4