A live oak dominates this late afternoon landscape. Diffuse light from the overcast sky reflects off the pond and up into the branches. The boulders, grass and broken branches in the foreground are barely suggested and the single figure making his way around the pond followed by a herd of cows is thinly sketched.
Landscape painter Théodore Rousseau lived in the nearby village of Barbizon, returning often to the forest of Fontainebleau to paint. When commercial exploitation threatened the forest, Rousseau wrote to the Duke of Morny, an influential politician close to Napoleon III, to urge the preservation of the forest.
During the summer Rousseau made use of a special easel and lean-to to facilitate painting outdoors. This painting belongs to a category known as dessin-peinture in which the artist notes the composition on site in chalk and thin layers of paint, and then returns to the studio to enhance particular elements and unite the composition.