Oil on canvas
35 x 28 1/8 inches (88.9 x 71.3 cm)
Framed: 36 3/8 x 28 7/8 inches
Signed: Jules Dupre
1900, New York, Henri Hilton Sale, no. 51
1917, New York, American Art Association, Sale X…, no. 161
Private Collection, California
Marie-Madeleine Aubrun, Jules Dupre 1811-1889: catalogue raisonne de l’oeuvre peint, Paris, 1974, no. 195, illustrated p. 110
As can be seen in Le Troupeau, Dupre’s approach to nature falls somewhere between realism and Romanticism. The painting’s heavy chiaroscuro, an ancient craggy tree, and thick swathes of paint reflect Dupre’s love of the dramatic landscape. For him nature was majestic, and he was fascinated by the alliance of the ephemeral and the eternal. He searched for the mystery of creation by examining the permanence of a natural world dominated by trees, which he saw as a significant element linking heaven and earth. This mystical vision was in part influenced by the paintings of such 17th-century Dutch masters as Meindert Hobbema and Jacob van Ruisdael. Using these elements in Le Troupeau, Dupre elevates a typical Barbizon subject to a reflection on the sublime nature of the French countryside.
Jules Dupre began his career in Creil, Ile de France, as a decorator of porcelain in the factory of his father, Francois Dupre, and later worked at the factory founded by his father in Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, Limousin. It was in this region of central France that Dupre became enchanted by the beauty of nature. He went to Paris to study under the landscape painter Jean-Michel Diebolt, who had been a pupil of Jean-Louis Demarne. Dupre began to see nature with a new awareness of its moods, preferring to paint alone and en plein air. He was fascinated by bad weather, changes of light and sunsets. Many of his paintings depict quiet woodland glades, often with a pond or stream. In 1830 and 1831 he associated with other young landscape painters, including Louis Cabat, Constant Troyon and Theodore Rousseau, and with them sought inspiration for his study of nature in the provinces, exhibiting the finished paintings at the annual Salons. In 1832 he visited the region of Berry with Cabat and Troyon, and in 1834 he was among the first French landscape painters to visit England. He spent time in London, Plymouth and Southampton and painted several views of these cities. While in England he met, and was influenced by, Constable, Turner and Richard Parkes Bonington. He travelled to the Landes and the Pyrenees with Rousseau in 1844, and they also explored the forests of the Ile de France in search of motifs. Dupre also painted in Normandy, Picardy and Sologne. Although he was a member of the Barbizon school, he did not visit the Forest of Fontainebleau as frequently as did others of the group, preferring instead to settle in 1849 in the village of L’Isle-Adam, north of Paris, where he remained for much of his life.
One work most representative of Dupre’s approach is The Floodgate (c. 1855-60; Paris, Musee d’Orsay) a similar work to Le Troupeau, with its tormented conception expressed in shifting chiaroscuro and thick, powerful handling of paint, which shape the natural world of light, trees and plants supporting human beings and animals. Despite his independent temperament, his career was successful, and his work was received with enthusiasm during his lifetime. He was made Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur in 1849 and was awarded several medals at the Salons and at the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where he showed 13 paintings. In later years he spent summers at Cayeux-sur-Mer and executed paintings inspired by its coastline. In these works his feeling for the tragic character of nature is heightened as much by his technique as by his lyrical conception. He also painted watercolors (e.g. the Duck Pond; c. 1833; Paris, Louvre). He was admired by the Impressionist painters and by their dealer Paul Durand-Ruel for his perception of atmosphere and the rendering of reflections of light.