[Simon Kelly] has assembled 70 works from the most distinguished painters who lived or worked in Barbizon, a village on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau 35 miles south of Paris. The two dozen artists in the exhibition include Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Theodore Rousseau, Virgile Narcisse Diaz de la Pena and Jean-Francois Millet. Although they worked elsewhere as well, of course, all the artists spent a good deal of time in Barbizon to paint in the forest and exchange ideas about the art of the landscape. The village is still a favorite weekend refuge for Parisians, and the house and studio of Millet, who lived in Barbizon for 26 years, is now a museum.
The exhibition displays six works by Millet, the best-known Barbizon painter, including the eerie 1856 painting, "The Sheepfold, at Moonlight." A shepherd in this painting tends his flock under a huge moon during what Millet called "the splendors and terrors of the night." Millet, the son of a peasant family, was more interested in describing rural life than the beauty of nature, and his paintings are replete with dignified farm workers and their wives standing erect under the crush of labor. Critics discerned religious or socialist fervor in his paintings, but Millet continually denied that he was trying to do more than produce realistic scenes. Millet joined the Barbizon painters later than most, settling in the village in 1849 at age 35. Before the end of the century, he was acclaimed as much as Impressionists such as Claude Monet or Pierre- August Renoir are acclaimed today. Millet paintings now in the Louvre such as "Angelus" and "The Shepherdess and Her Flock" (a drawing by Millet of the former and a pastel by Millet of the latter are in the show) were constantly reproduced on postcards, calendars and magazine pages. In 1895, a critic, estimating the monetary value of art, listed "The Shepherdess and Her Flock" as the world's most expensive painting.
PAINTED FOREST: "Forest of Fontainebleau" (1871) by Virgile Narcisse Diaz de la Pena. At the time, Barbizon painters defied the fashion of "history painting."; PHOTOGRAPHER: The Walters Art Museum; A NIGHT VISION: Jean-Francois Millet's "The Sheepfold, at Moonlight" (1856). Barbizon works led to Impressionism.; PHOTOGRAPHER: The Walters Art Museum