In the Forest of Fontainebleau, is a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It runs through June 8th. I was able to see the show last weekend and it is just wonderful. It presents the work of painters and photographers who gravitated to Fontainebleau region in France in the mid-nineteenth century, spawning what would become the Barbizon School of painting and fostering painting styles that would eventually become impressionism.
The paintings are glorious. What was interesting was how much the photography pales in comparison. Where the paintings give a sense of the mood of the environment and the mood of the artist, the photography feels crude and inexpressive. Photography was still in its infancy at this time and the photographers working in Fontainbleau used paper negatives. The resulting prints are high contrast, dark and have the feel of bad faxes. The few standouts are the portraits which were taken in softer light and do not try to encompass the same field of view as the painters.
My favorite painting is above, it’s Jean-Francois Millet’s The Sheepfold, Moonlight. The reproduction here doesn’t begin to capture the painting’s ability to show the light and the moment.
On a silly note, I had taken 20th Century Art History in college, it began just after this period with the Impressionists. So, it was interesting to learn the true history of the Barbizon School. I guess it really didn’t start as a school for modeling that used run commercials on TV when I was as a kid…