Artists of the Barbizon school (named after a small village in France where its participants used to congregate) prized direct observation of nature, painting outdoors, en plein air. Inspired by the British artist John Constable, they painted naturalistic landscapes such as Corot’s Lake in this room. They offered an important precedent to the French painters of the following generation who sustained the interest in plein air painting and came to be known as Impressionists.
Today, artists associated with Impressionism—chief among them Monet, Renoir, and Degas—are wildly popular. But in the 1860s and 70s, these artists were considered outcasts, renegade painters who repudiated the mainstream academic painting that dominated the Paris art world at the time. The Impressionists set themselves apart with their interest in optics, in a new way of painting that diverged from the slick finish of academic training of the time, and in subjects derived from modern life. One inspiration for this group of nonconformist painters was the work of Edouard Manet, whose vivid paintings in bold colors and sometimes shocking perspective were harshly criticized by the academy. Manet himself, however, continued to strive for acceptance by the academy and its annual showcase—the Paris Salon—never showing his work at the exhibitions organized by the Impressionist artists beginning in 1874.
Along with the portraits by Whistler, a few galleries away, the paintings displayed in this room are the most modern works in the Frick’s collection.