French painters have historically taken to landscape with a zeal unmatched by artists of any other nationality. This volume traces the history of that engagement with nature from the late Renaissance, when landscape painting first emerged from the background of narrative representation, up to the eve of Impressionism in the nineteenth century. French artists faced many choices as they made their way through the rural landscape. John Varriano's essay emphasizes the role the classicizing Italianate idiom of Poussin and Claude played in the French imagination for much of that time. Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, who was for landscape painting what Jacques-Louis David was for history painting, constitutes a major turning point in that tradition. Wendy Watson's essay explores the intellectual foundations of his work and his renewal of the classical legacy in landscape painting.
With time, French landscape painters came to question the authority of the inherited tradition. Michael Marlais's essay not only demonstrates that Charles-Franois Daubigny was central to that conceptual change but also explains the reasons artists began rethinking, while not totally abandoning, classical formulas.
Valenciennes, Daubigny, and the Origins of French Landscape Painting contains 30 color illustrations as well as a checklist of the 2004 exhibition at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum that occasioned its publication.