Organised jointly by the Musée Fabre and France's Réunion des Musées Nationaux, the exhibition highlights the rich diversity of the museum's collections with a selection of works exploring the theme of landscape.
Landscape painting as we know it today – the heroic landscapes of Nicolas Poussin, the pastoral scenes of Claude Lorrain, the Romantic alpine views of Salvator Rosa and Gaspard Dughet – owes much to Rome in the 17th century, where it emerged as a natural response to the city's glorious ancient monuments, and the incomparable Italian light. In counterpoint to this classical ideal, northern landscape painting (Teniers, Ruisdael, Wouwerman, Wijnants) developed outside the constraints of the classical tradition, and showed a quite different concern for lyrical realism. The 18th century saw a revival in landscape painting, linked to a new sensitivity to nature, a passion for Antiquity and the renewed fashion for Italian travel among artists and amateurs alike (the celebrated Grand Tour), which in turn gave rise to Neoclassicism. Thanks to the collections of the Montpellier-born art lover François-Xavier Fabre, himself an eminent landscape painter, works by his contemporaries Gauffier, Boguet, Castellan, Hackert, Denis, Granet, Chauvin and Voogd form the backbone of the Musée Fabre's distinguished collection today. The paintings constitute a lively, strikingly unusual survey of the landscapes of Tuscany and Rome, from Latium to the kingdom of Naples. During the Romantic era (Huet, Delacroix, Roqueplan...) artists gradually distanced themselves from the classical tradition, stimulated by the example of English watercolourists such as Bonnington and Fielding, and began to discover the rich, varied landscapes of the French provinces. The Paris Salons of the 1830s saw the emergence of a distinctive naturalistic tradition, centred on the leading figure of Théodore Rousseau. Works by Marilhat, Fromentin and Tournemine acknowledge the important contribution of painters of the Orientalist school. The realism of Courbet, and Bazille's impassioned experimentations on the motif in the forest of Fontainebleau, or Languedoc, enabled later artists to make the decisive leap towards a freer use of form and colour. The exhibition pays tribute to the Musée Fabre's great donors: Fabre, Valedeau and Bruyas, whose generous gifts brought some of Frances finest landscape paintings into the public domain.