Charles François Daubigny was a leading painter of the Barbizon School, a group of artists who worked in and around the hamlet of Barbizon in the Forest of Fontainebleau southeast of Paris. They sought to create accurate, unprettified renderings of rural life and landscape and often painted outdoors.
The serene "Pond at Gylieu," depicting a pond located near the city of Lyons, marks an important step in Daubigny’s career. The painting's success at the Paris Salon of 1853 secured his reputation and gained him financial security. It won a first-class medal, and was purchased by the French emperor Napoleon III. "Pond at Gylieu" reflects past traditions of French landscape painting while foreshadowing Impressionism.
Daubigny fused a progressive, keenly observed naturalism with an almost academic idealization, revealed in the delicate balance, subtle spacing, and anecdotal—perhaps even symbolic—elements such as the herons. The painting’s silvery tonality may reflect the influence of his older contemporary, the landscapist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
More than the other Barbizon artists, Daubigny painted ponds, streams, and waterways. In 1857, four years after he created "Pond at Gylieu," he launched his studio boat on the River Oise. After that time, he seldom painted anything but landscapes with a water motif.