Unrivaled for its scale and ambition, this monumental forest scene was begun early in Rousseau's career and remained unfinished at the time of his death, despite the urging of Millet and other artist friends to complete and exhibit it. By one account, Rousseau’s intention was to recreate the effect of a sunset he had seen in Bas-Bréau, a section of Fontainebleau forest, in December 1845. The tangled web of trees, denuded of foliage and suffused with deep color, conveys a sense of awe before nature that is amplified by the presence of two stooped peasants at the center.
the artist, Paris (until d. 1867; his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 27, 1868, no. 52, as "Forêt d'hiver," for Fr 10,000 to Durand-Ruel); [Durand-Ruel, Paris, 1868–87 (as a part of a series of complicated financial arrangements it was held with Hector Brame, Jules Feder, and Charles(?) Edwards; it was included in the collection sale "d'un amateur," Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 24, 1881, no. 52, for Fr 48,600 to Durand-Ruel and later sold for Fr 28,000 to Robertson for American Art Association)]; [American Art Association, New York, 1887–92; sale, "The Collections of the American Art Association to be Absolutely Sold by Auction to Settle the Estate of the Late R. Austin Robertson," New York, April 7–8, 1892, no. 155, as "Forest in Winter—Sunset," for $9,000 to Widener); P. A. B. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania (1892–1911)
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867," November 29, 1967–February 12, 1968, no. 58.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Barbizon: French Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century," February 4–May 10, 1992, no catalogue.
[Étienne-Joseph-]T[héophile]. Thoré. L'Artiste, 4th ser., 11 (December 26, 1847), p. 127, notes that Rousseau "a commencé une grande toile de dix pieds, un intérieur de forêt, le Bas-Bréau, si l'on veut, un souvenir de Fontainebleau, qui survivra aux pauvres chênes assassinés chaque jour au coin des bois" (has begun a large canvas of ten feet, a forest interior—Bas-Bréau, if you will—a souvenir of Fontainebleau, at the edge of the wood where there still survive a few of those poor oaks that are slaughtered every day).
Jean-François Millet. Letter to Théodore Rousseau.  [excerpt published in Alfred Sensier, "La Vie et l'œuvre de J.-F. Millet," Paris, 1881, p. 148], urges Rousseau to complete "votre forêt" (your forest) within one month, adding "il est très important que ce tableau soit au Salon: il faut absolument qu'il y soit" (it is highly important that this painting be in the Salon: it absolutely must be).
Frédéric Hartmann. Letter to Théodore Rousseau. April 15, 1859 [see Toussaint 1967; excerpt published and translated in Thomas 2000, p. 259 n. 126], "Il me semble que votre grande Foret [sic] que vous destinez au gouvernement est assez avancée pour que M. de Newerkerke [sic] puisse vous faire une avance sur ce tableau" (It seems to me that your large Forest, which you intend for the government, is advanced enough that M. de Newerkerke can give you an advance on that painting).
Alfred Sensier. Souvenirs sur Th. Rousseau. Paris, 1872, pp. 154–55, xiii, notes that it was begun in the spring of 1846 at l'Isle-Adam as a remembrance of a December sunset in the wood of Bas-Bréau.
Armand Silvestre. Galerie Durand-Ruel, recueil d'estampes, gravées à l'eau-forte. Paris, 1873, pp. 18–19, pl. LIV (engraving by Brunet-Debaines), as "La Forêt d'hiver".
Catalogue of Paintings Forming the Private Collection of P. A. B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia. [Paris], 1885–1900, vol. 1, p. 97, pl. 97 (engraving), as "Winter Sunset, Forest of Fontainebleau".
"Modern Painted Masterpieces." New York Times (March 29, 1892), p. 5.
Georges Lanoë and Tristan Brice. Histoire de l'école française de paysage (depuis le Poussin jusqu'à Millet). Paris, 1901, pp. 186, 271, state in the text that Rousseau began this picture about 1846 or 1847 and in the chronology that he began it in the spring of 1846; note that he retouched it throughout his life, and that it was purchased for Fr 10,000 by Brame at the artist's posthumous sale in April 1868.
Émile Michel. "Théodore Rousseau et les peintres de Barbison [sic]." Revue des deux mondes, 5ème pér., 27 (May 1, 1905), pp. 165–66.
Prosper Dorbec. Théodore Rousseau: Biographie critique. Paris, 1910, p. 84.
Émile Michel. Great Masters of Landscape Painting. London, 1910, p. 342, ill. p. 327.
Paul Durand-Ruel. Mémoires de Paul Durand-Ruel. 1911–12 [published in Lionello Venturi, "Les Archives de l'impressionnisme," Paris, 1939, vol. 2, p. 167], states that he purchased this picture from the artist's estate sale in 1868 and was unable to find a buyer until 1887.
B[ryson]. B[urroughs]. "Recent Accessions." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (February 1911), p. 40, calls it "Winter Sunset, Forest of Fontainebleau".
Prosper Dorbec. L'Art du paysage en France. Paris, 1925, p. 90.
Robert L. Herbert. Barbizon Revisited. Exh. cat., California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco. Boston, 1962, p. 29, states that it was begun in December 1846.
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 84–86, ill., state that it was begun in the winter of 1845–46; mention an oil study (formerly collection J. S. Forbes; S373) and a charcoal study in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.
Marie-Thérèse de Forges inThéodore Rousseau, 1812–1867. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1967, unpaginated.
Hélène Toussaint inThéodore Rousseau, 1812–1867. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1967, pp. 47, 88–89, 107, no. 58, ill., notes that Rousseau executed many studies for this picture, which was begun in 1846 and retouched over the next twenty years; mentions a letter by Frédéric Hartmann [April 15, 1859] which suggests that Rousseau wanted this picture to be purchased by the French government.
Jean Bouret. L'École de Barbizon et le paysage français au XIXe siècle. Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 1972, p. 270, ill. p. 123.
John Rewald. "Should Hoving Be De-accessioned?" Art in America 61 (January–February 1973), p. 29.
Lydie Huyghe in René Huyghe. La Relève de l'imaginaire. La Peinture française au XIXe siècle: Réalisme, romantisme. Paris, 1976, p. 471.
Antoine Terrasse. L'Univers de Théodore Rousseau. Paris, 1976, p. 67.
Nicholas Green. Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867. Exh. cat., Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich. London, 1982, pp. 31, 57, under no. 38.
Michael Clarke. Lighting up the Landscape: French Impressionism and its Origins. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Scotland. Edinburgh, 1986, pp. 15–16, fig. 3, states that it was begun in the winter of 1845–46.
Michael Clarke. Corot and the Art of Landscape. London, 1991, fig. 75.
Barbizon & L'Ecole de la Nature. Exh. cat., Brame & Lorenceau. [Paris], 1992, unpaginated, under no. 41.
Dana Micucci. "Barbizon Revisited." Art & Antiques 18 (September 1995), p. 67.
Michel Schulman with the collaboration of Marie Bataillès in and Virginie Sérafino inThéodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre graphique. Paris, 1997, pp. 14, 216 under no. 393, ill. (color).
Michel Schulman with Marie Bataillès. Théodore Rousseau, 1812–1867: Catalogue raisonné de l'œuvre peint. Paris, 1999, p. 224, no. 374, ill., dates it 1846–66.
Greg M. Thomas. "The Practice of 'Naturalism': The Working Methods of Théodore Rousseau." Barbizon: Malerei der Natur—Natur der Malerei. Ed. Andreas Burmester et al. Munich, 1999, pp. 140–41, 147–48, 151 nn. 43, 45, fig. 5, calls it "Winter Forest"; dates it 1846–67 in the caption and states that it was begun in 1847 in the text; remarks that Rousseau "intended this monumental canvas to be his crowning contribution to the Louvre" but that it remained unfinished and unexhibited during his lifetime; notes that it is possibly based on a small on-site sketch; discusses Rousseau's "intimate relationship with this site," referring to this picture as "the conduit of interaction between painter and forest".
Greg M. Thomas. Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau. Princeton, 2000, pp. 31–32, 35, 41, 51–52, 55–56, 60–61, 75, 102, 122, 161, 163–65, 172, 174, 176, 185–90, 194–95, 198, 204, 226 n. 27, p. 257 nn. 103–4, p. 259 nn. 125–26, figs. 72, 88 (overall and detail), suggests that this picture was conceived to remain incomplete in order to capture "the unending process of the forest".
Esmée Quodbach. "'The Last of the American Versailles': The Widener Collection at Lynnewood Hall." Simiolus 29, no. 1/2 (2002), pp. 56–57, fig. 11.
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu. Nineteenth-Century European Art. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J., 2006, p. 242, fig. 10-20 (color), dates it 1845–67.
Michael Clarke inTurner e gli impressionisti: La grande storia del paesaggio moderno in Europa. Ed. Marco Goldin. Exh. cat., Museo di Santa Giulia, Brescia. Treviso, 2006, p. 180, ill.
Chantal Georgel. La Forêt de Fontainebleau: Un atelier grandeur nature. Exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay. Paris, 2007, pp. 84, 87, ill. p. 198 and fig. 15 (both color).
Asher Ethan Miller inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 50–51, 301, no. 47, ill. (color and black and white).
Simon Kelly in Kimberly Jones. In the Forest of Fontainebleau: Painters and Photographers from Corot to Monet. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2008, pp. 147, 193 n. 35, as "Winter Forest".
Amy Kurlander. The Untamed Landscape: Théodore Rousseau and the Path to Barbizon. Exh. cat., Morgan Library & Museum. New York, 2014, pp. 17, 114–15, fig. 1 (color) under no. 39, discusses studies for the painting and changes to the composition between the studies and the final picture.
Paul-Louis Durand-Ruel and Flavie Durand-Ruel inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, p. 44 [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, p. 41].
Simon Kelly inInventing Impressionism: Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. Ed. Sylvie Patry. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg, Paris. London, 2015, pp. 68, 74, 274 nn. 33, 37, fig. 47 (color) [French ed., "Paul Durand-Ruel: le Pari de l'Impressionnisme," Paris, 2014, pp. 54–55, 58, 218 nn. 33, 37, fig. 35 (color)], goes into detail about the partial ownership relationships for this painting among Paul Durand-Ruel, Hector Brame, and Jules Feder (but see Durand-Ruel 1911–12, pp. 167, 210–11 and collection sale "d'un amateur," Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 24, 1881, no. 52 regarding both these relationships and end date for Feder's involvement and beginning of Edwards'); suggests a religious motivation for Durand-Ruel's purchase of the painting for his own collection.
Michael Gallagher inUnfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. New York, 2016, pp. 42, 45–46, 265 nn. 6, 7, fig. 5 and ill. p. 42 (color, overall and detail), discusses the history of conservators' treatments of it.
Several studies exist for this composition, including a charcoal drawing in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and two oil sketches (one sold at Salle Rossini, Paris, March 31, 2004, no. 214, and the other, formerly collection Lord Kenneth Clark, London; Schulman 1999, nos. 373 and 377). There is an engraving by Brunet-Debaines (see Silvestre 1873).
This is one of the Rousseau's three largest canvases; the other two are essentially the same size. Descent of the Cattle in the Jura, 1834–35, in the Mesdag Museum, The Hague, inv. 286 (Schulman 1999, no. 168), measures 102 x 63 3/4 in. (259 x 162 cm). A version of Descent of the Cattle, 1835–36, in the Musée de Picardie, Amiens, inv. 4371 (Schulman 1999, no. 170), measures 101 7/8 x 65 3/8 in. (258.8 x 166 cm).