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Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. Monte Cavo, ca. 1825–28. Oil on cardboard. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, Legacy Paul Jamot. Photo: C. Devleeschauwer. 

SEATTLE, WA.- Towards Impressionism traces the development of French landscape painting from the informal schools of Barbizon and Honfleur to Impressionism. The majority of the works in the exhibition come from the extraordinary collection of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, France, with selections from the Frye Art Museum’s own holdings. Together, these paintings chart the rise in status of landscape painting in France over the course of the nineteenth century as artists turned from classical depictions of distant lands towards local scenes painted en plein air (“in the open air,” or outdoors) in increasingly experimental styles. 

The Reims fine arts museum has one of the world’s foremost collections of landscape paintings by artists associated with the Barbizon colony—artists like Théodore Rousseau, Charles-François Daubigny, JeanFrançois Millet, and Constant Troyon, who gathered in the village of Barbizon between 1830 and 1855 to paint in and around the nearby Forest of Fontainebleau. Fascinated by the mysteries of the forest and rural tradition, the Barbizon artists rejected urban life and the teachings of the French Academy. Whereas landscape had previously served only as a backdrop for allegorical or historical tableaux, the Barbizonists painted landscape for its own sake, working from observation but often infusing their subjects with an emotionality reminiscent of Romanticism. Eugène Boudin. 
La marée montante (baie de Saint-Valéry) (Rising Tide (bay of Saint-Valéry)), 1888. Oil on Canvas. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, Legacy Jules Warnier-David. Photo: C. Devleeschauwer. 

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Claude Monet. Les rochers de Belle-Île (Rocks at Belle-Île),1886. Oil on canvas. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, Legacy Henry Vasnier. Photo: C. Devleeschauwer. 

One of the most significant artists to visit Barbizon was Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, whose works are a particular focus of the exhibition. The Reims fine arts museum possesses the second largest collection of his work after the Louvre. Corot’s long life (1796–1875) coincided with the period in which idealized, classically inflected views of foreign lands like Italy—executed in the artist’s studio and composed according to the principles of the Academy—gave way to native French landscapes painted out of doors in direct response to the scenery. Corot began traveling to the Normandy coast early in his career, painting in the seaside environs of Honfleur. Later, from about 1850 onward, a circle of artists converged in the village at the invitation of Eugène Boudin, whose preoccupation with light, reflection, and “instantaneity”—most often applied to nautical scenes painted entirely en plein air—influenced the work of visitors such as Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet. These innovations in technique and subject led to the more radical experiments of the Impressionists, who, beginning in the 1870s, captured scenes of modern life with rhythmic strokes of unmodulated color.  

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Théodore Rousseau. La mare (The Pond), 1842–1843. Oil on canvas. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, Legacy Henry Vasnier. Photo: C. Devleeschauwer. 

Tracing the development of French plein air painting through these seminal figures and their favorite locales, Towards Impressionism highlights the century-long cultural shift away from the classical principles of the French Academy—a shift that legitimated contemporary subjects, emphasized the act of painting, and ultimately gave rise to Modernism. 

Towards Impressionism: Landscape Painting from Corot to Monet is curated by Suzanne Greub and managed by her team at Art Centre Basel in collaboration with the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims and the City of Reims, France. 

The installation at the Frye Art Museum is overseen by Amanda Donnan, curator, and David Strand, head of exhibitions and publications

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Narcisse Virgile Díaz de la Peña. Landscape at Barbizon, n.d. Oil on canvas. Frye Art Museum, Founding Collection, Gift of Charles and Emma Frye, 1952.035. Photo: Spike Mafford. 

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Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot. Le coup de vent (The Gust of Wind), ca. 1865–70. Oil on canvas. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, Legacy Jules Warnier-David. Photo: C. Devleeschauwer.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Marine (Seascape), undated. Oil on canvas. © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, Legacy Henry Vasnier. Photo: C. Devleeschauwe

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Jean-François Millet, 'Hameau cousin à Gréville', 1855-74 © Reims, Musée des Beaux-Arts, photography Christian Devleeschauwer.