An exhibition in Pairs pays tribute to Theodore Rousseau’s artistic fascination with the majesty of nature.

Not many art enthusiasts visiting Paris museums are aware of the works of Theodore Rousseau and his
mind-boggling paintings dedicated to the beauty of nature. Hence, the current exhibition devoted to Rousseau’s artwork at the Petit Palais – located along the corner of Champs Elysées and Avenue Winston Churchill, leading towards the river Seine — is a delightful surprise to all.
Rousseau, born in Paris in 1812, turned nature into his religion by restlessly painting trees, forests and animals until the end of his life at the age of 55. Rousseau was the son of a wealthy businessman who wanted him to take over the family business.
However, Rousseau, while only in his early 20s, moved to the Barbizon village South of Paris in order to remain close to the forest of Fontainebleau – which later played a fundamental role in the creation of his inventive landscape techniques that would eventually lead the way to the Impressionist movement.
In 1831, at age 19 only, Rousseau presented The Site of Auvergne, an unusually large landscape of a forest, at the Salon de Paris – one of the most respected art events of the era. His style attracted the attention of critics alongside other, older and already well-reputed painters.

Shortly after, another huge painting by Rousseau, Forest of Compiègne, was bought at a high price by Prince Ferdinand

Philippe, son of the former King of France, Louis-Philippe d’Orléans. Soon enough, all the well-respected art critics of the era paid homage to Rousseau’s immense landscapes that never featured a single human being.
Rousseau would reject successive offers by museums and rich art enthusiasts to settle down in a comfortable workshop in Paris with canvases andr other painting materials, without having to pay any expenses. His response was always, “I can only paint in open nature and the Fontainebleau Forest is my real workshop!”
In 1837, Rousseau was invited by another reputed French painter, Charles Le Roux to Vendée, a hilly seaside town in Western France. Here, Rousseau added elements to his scenes that were absent from his Fontainebleau paintings,

such as rocks and ocean waves.
In 1852, the 40-year-old Rousseau was officially distinguished by the French government with the respected title of the Knight of the Legion of Honour.
More than 100 years before the present-day notion of ecology, Rousseau got enthusiastically involved in the struggle to save the trees that were being cut down in the Fontainebleau Forest, to create space for roads and buildings.
One of the greatest supporters of his cause was the famous female French author of the era, George Sand.
Both Sand and Rousseau denounced the felling of the trees as “carnage” and a “death sentence against nature.” Rousseau’s 1847 painting concerning the subject, titled Massacre of the Innocents, remains one of his most reputed masterpieces.
The current exhibition at the Petit Palais brings together nearly 100 works from major French museums, such as the Louvre and the Orsay, but also many foreign ones, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery in London – not to forget the Mesdag Collection in The Hague, the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, as well as from a number of private collections.