As famous for his original etchings as for his paintings, Charles-François Daubigny (1817-78) holds a prime position in mid-19th century French art. A leading artist of the Barbizon landscape school, he directly influenced the following generation of Impressionist painters and is a great precursor of the movement though highly impressive in his own right.
Relatively few western art masterpieces feature a pig that steals the show, but this is clearly the achievement of Daubigny in this classic Barbizon School etching. The idyllic orchard is compromised by the central sty or shed, and the pig on the left, their head largely submerged in the trough. The pig is enjoying a good guzzle, as they are wont to do.
A strange mix of meanings is projected by this print. The line of text neatly etched below the image - 'un Cochon de propriétaire qui ne fera de bien qu'après sa mort' (a pig owner will only do any good after his death) - was allegedly the words of Daubigny's friend, the sculptor Jean-Louis Chenillion, watching the artist drawing the pig. But what was the relationship between the pig, its owner and their connection to Daubigny that drove him to inscribe his friend's grim words?
Beyond the play of meanings projected by the inscription, the treatment of the portrayed subject is equally curious. Daubigny has intentionally camouflaged the landscape features with loosely laid lines so that the whole composition seems literally woven together. This visual blending of sky, trees, grasses and ground with the pig and distant sheds expresses a vision of landscape that is more about the complexity of intuitive sensory responses than a straightforward, mimetic description of what he observed.
Gordon James Brown, Prints and Principles, http://www.printsandprinciples.com/2017/12/charles-francois-daubignys-etching-le.html
Dr Mark Stocker Curator Historical International Art April 2018