Oil on canvas
10 x 27 cm (unframed)
Signed lower right and inscribed on the back (twice) "Harpignies".
This small study, probably done in the open air, shows us one of the curiosities of the Fontainebleau Forest: the Cul-du-Chien sand sea, in the Trois-Pignons Wood. Harpignies captures this landscape at sunset, in an incandescent light that transforms the sand sea into a glowing line of light.
1. Henri Harpignies and the Barbizon School
In 1846 Henri Harpignies left his native Valenciennes to become a painter and entered the studio of Jean Achard (1807-1884) in Paris, at a time when the latter was increasingly involved with the painters of the Barbizon School. After two years of apprenticeship he travelled to Italy.
Back in France in 1850, Henri Harpignies joined Camille Corot (1796 - 1875) in Barbizon, and became influenced by his work. The two artists became friends and travelled together to Italy in 1860.
On his return from Italy in 1861, Harpignies had his first success at the Salon, where he became a regular exhibitor. He frequently painted in Hérisson in the Bourbonnais, as well as in the Nivernais and Auvergne. A prolific painter and draughtsman, he left a considerable body of work consisting mainly of landscapes but including also a few portraits.
2. Description of the artwork
Here Henri Harpignies represents a well-known site in the Fontainebleau Forest: the Cul-du-Chien sand sea, in the Trois-Pignons Wood. The origin of this sea of sand is due to the geological evolution of the site: 30 million years ago, an ocean of warm water covered the site, depositing quartz at the bottom, which later disintegrated into sand.
Standing on a hill overlooking the sand sea, Henri Harpignies captures both the immensity and the profound originality of the site using a fomat which he loved, an elongated sketch. While a few of the foreground trees in are roughly sketched, the painter's attention is focused on the representation of light: the setting sun, a veritable ball of incandescent fire, radiates across the canvas and transforms the sand sea into a long tongue of fire, as if the sun were reflected there.
It would be correct to assume that this painting was done when Harpignies was close to the Barbizon painters, i.e. between 1850 and 1860. This would confirm the very innovative character of this representation, done some twenty years before Claude Monet's famous "Impression Soleil Levant", and the very important link between Impressionism and the Barbizon painters.
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