Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lost in the Woods

One of the finest landscape painters of 19th century France, Constant Troyon, was born on this date in 1810. Although he only flourished as a painter for the last 15 years of his life, he painted some of the finest French landscapes of the mid-1800s. Troyon stands as a transitional figure between the classical landscapes of Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorraine and the Impressionist landscapes of the late 19th century. Like John Constable, Troyon’s British influence, Troyon portrays a rugged, almost Romantic type of nature, as seen in his The Approaching Storm (above) from 1849. A factual type of nature, in all its twisting organicism as well as a living, breathing sky populate this picture as much as the people dwarfed at the bottom.

Troyon paints animals with incredible mastery. The hound in Hound Pointing (above), from 1860, moves with a believable excitement and energy, as if the prey were just over the next bank. Troyon paints cows, oxen, sheep, and other animals common to the rural, farm life of France as empathetically as he paints the peasants working with those animals. I’ve never seen any exotic animals done by Troyon. As much as exotic animals and bestiaries were in vogue in his day (as painted by Eugene Delacroix, for example), Troyon never gave in to the temptation to stray away from the simple life he knew and understood.

I find Troyon’s draftsmanship to be the most interesting aspect of his art. In drawings such as Forest Pond (above), done some time in the 1850s, Troyon shows an almost Renaissance flair for creating whole forests out of simple drawing gestures. The touches of white crayon highlighting add a wonderful three-dimensionality. An appreciation of drawing fell victim to the wave of Impressionism and modernism in the 20th century, which may account for the decline in reputation of artists such as Troyon. Placed in his proper context, Troyon emerges as an important figure preserving the Old Master ways while embracing the same post-Enlightenment and humanist philosophy that paves the way for Impressionist ways of seeing and, consequently, all modern art.

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