Marsh on the Moors, Springtime
(Pierre Etienne Theodore Rousseau)


Dwarfed by both a brilliantly colored sky and the lush foliage of an unpromising marshland, a young cowherd guides her cattle to a pond to drink in Marsh on the Moors, Springtime. The composition is a variation on one of Rousseau’s most famous paintings, Marsh in Les Landes (Musée d’Orsay, Paris), and an expression of his deep affection for the most (presumptively) unpicturesque terrains of France. Rousseau’s greatest contribution to French landscape art lay in the genuine passion he brought to painting such unexploited locales as the precipitous mountain gorges of the Jura or the gorse-covered heaths of the Berry. To translate onto his canvases the vast spaces and the spiky, spindly plants that so impressed him, Rousseau set aside every convention of landscape organization he had inherited and constantly pressed the technical limits of his colors and his tools.

Rousseau became particularly adept at capturing the breadth of the great flat plains that characterize so much of the French farmland. With rhythmic shifts in light intensity, the use of long, slivered bands of pure, saturated colors (note the ribbon of yellow sand that calls attention to cattle and cowherd in Marsh on the Moors, Springtime), and the elaboration of shadowy foregrounds with individually accented plants and rocks, Rousseau could suggest unusually complex vistas stretching over great distances. In Marsh on the Moors, Springtime Rousseau utilized the low horizon he favored for such scenes to great effect, orchestrating a broad movement of broken clouds into a sky of extraordinary intensity. The fresh pinks, salmons and lavender-grays that play against an underlying robin’s-egg-blue are an important testament to the color effects that Rousseau’s audiences found so startling in his paintings, and the brilliant sky takes on particular significance because Rousseau is known to have reworked many of his most luminous paintings specifically to soften such effects. Not until Courbet’s dramatic Etretat seascapes of the late-1860s would another artist take up the challenge of France’s moisture-saturated atmospheres so squarely. Marsh on the Moors, Springtime has been traditionally identified as a site in the Landes (a barren, marshy region in southwestern France where Rousseau worked alongside Jules Dupré during 1844), presumably because the flat plain and string of cows in the present painting specifically recall Rousseau’s famous Marsh in the Landes (Musée d’Orsay) which was shown at the influential Expositions Universelles of both 1855 and 1867 and sold for a staggering sum in 1881 when it was purchased for the French nation. The distinctive church on the horizon in this work and the steeply roofed-barn to the right, however, as well as the assertively pink-tinged sky, suggest that the site is a more northern one, perhaps in the region of L’Isle-Adam, where Rousseau worked frequently during the late 1840s — the probable date for this painting – or further east in Picardy, also known for its expansive plains. A preparatory drawing for Marsh on the Moors, Springtime which has been scaled for enlargement, is part of the Donation Granville in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon, where it is titled Troupeau dans la Plaine de Chailly; but the Chailly plain (outside Barbizon) has no distinctive pools of water or marshland, and the nearby churches at Chailly and Arbonne are of different form.

Alexandra Murphy

12 3/4 x 21 inches; 32.5 x 53.5 cm.
Oil on panel

PROVENANCE: Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, his sale, 30 April 1877, no. 81, 17,000 fr.; Georges de Porto-Riche, Paris, his sale, 14 May 1890, no. 29, 16,200 fr.; Louis Sarlin, Paris, his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, 2 March 1918, no. 63; John Levy Galleries, New York; O’Brien and Son, Chicago; Thomas C. Dennehy, Chicago, by 1930.


LITERATURE: Prosper Dorbec, “Exposition des ‘Vingt peintres du XIXème siècle’ à la Galerie Georges Petit,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 19 July 1910, ill. p. 19; Maurice Hamel, “Exposition de Chefs-d’oeuvre de l’école française” in Les Arts, August 1910, repro. p. 13. Pierre Miquel and Galerie Brame & Lorenceau will reproduce this painting in the Catalogue raisonné of Théodore Rousseau’s paintings now in preparation.


EXHIBITIONS: Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Chefs-d’oeuvres de l’école française. Vingt peintres du XIXème siècle, 1910, no. 140.
Matthiesen Gallery & Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘The Gallic Prospect’, 1999

Where is It?
Acquired from The Matthiesen Gallery by an Italian Collector
Historical Period
Realism to Impressionism - 1840-1900
1999-An Eye on Nature II: The Gallic Prospect. French Landscape Painting 1785-1900.
Hard back catalogue of the Exhibition held in New York. 195 pages fully illustrated with 37 full colour plates and 65 black and white illustrations (many full page). Forward by Patrick Matthiesen and Guy Stair Sainty. Introduction by Guy Stair Sainty. £35 or $50 inc. p.&p.

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Price band
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