Théodore Rousseau was a central figure in the group of artists working in France in the mid nineteenth century who were associated with the village of Barbizon in the forest of Fontainebleau, near Paris. The artists who constituted what came to be known as the Barbizon school shared a love of painting directly from nature. Their interest in landscape painting for its own sake was a relatively recent development in French art and was to some degree a result of the influence of John Constable and other earlier English landscapists.
Although he settled permanently at Barbizon in 1848, Rousseau also travelled extensively in the French provinces and Landscape with a clump of trees was probably painted during his time in the Berry and Landes regions in central and southwest France. This painting is characteristic of the objective naturalism that governed the artist’s approach to landscape in the 1840s. Here is nature at her most serene, benign and accessible. Occupying two-thirds of the composition, the clear and spacious expanse of sky that joins the earth at the distant horizon line confirms the painting’s overall sense that the natural world is tranquil, harmonious and enduring.
The work of Rousseau and the Barbizon school became associated with a specifically nineteenth-century ideal of the relationship between man and nature, an ideal that provided an antidote to the often sordid reality of contemporary urban life. It has been argued that the modern naturalistic landscape, epitomized by paintings like Landscape with a clump of trees, in fact came into being as a counter to the advances of industrialization.
Text by Rose Stone from 19th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 44.