French, 1811-1889

Jules Dupre

Jules Dupré was the son of a painter turned industrialist in the vicinity of Creil, where his father had a porcelain factory. The young man began by working in the factory decorating plates, but also worked at painting in his own time. He accompanied his father to St-Yrieix, where Dupré senior had set up another factory - a key event for one who was to become the painter par excellence of the Limousin region.

Dupré's career as a painter began in 1831, when, having newly arrived in Paris, he showed seven pieces at the Salon, including landscapes of the Haute-Vienne, of Montmorency and a view of L'Isle-Adam. He took some lessons from Jean-Michel Diebolt, once a pupil of Demarne, and Dupré's celebrated work Indiana appeared in 1832.

In Paris, the young painter soon made the acquaintance of a wide circle of artists and writers. George Sand had come to Paris at around the same time as Dupré. Most importantly, he made friends with artists of the then-flourishing 1830 School, painters such as Troyon, Daubigny, Millet, Cabat and Paul Huet. In particular, Dupré formed a long-standing friendship with Théodore Rousseau, whose career was just beginning in 1832. He also greatly enjoyed going to the countryside to work from nature, with companions such as J. André, Troyon or Cabat. They would often spend several weeks at a time in the Indre or Berry regions. Perennially short of funds himself (he once claimed, 'I'll have enough to eat by the time I've no longer got a stomach'), he nevertheless sold a number of his pictures in order to raise funds for needy friends; Rousseau and Millet both had occasion to call on his help.

In 1834 Dupré accepted an invitation from Lord Grave to travel to England, where he visited London, Plymouth and Southampton, and came into contact with Constable, Turner, Crome, Bonington and other English masters, who made a deep impression on him. On his return he showed a view of Southampton at the 1835 Salon to great acclaim. He was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1849; however, he had stopped contributing to the annual Salons for several years from 1839 onwards, only showing again in 1852. There then followed another long absence from public exhibition; his work was not seen in the Salons again until 1867, the year of the first Exposition Universelle.

Dupré's claim that 'the sky is behind the tree, in the tree, in front of the tree' reveals an important aspect of his artistic approach, namely that he regarded atmosphere as more significant than anything else in the representation of nature. Certainly, he put very few people into his pictures. Before him, in the 17th and 18th centuries, landscape had been thought of almost in theatrical terms, with the sky as a 'backdrop' for different 'scenes'. By contrast, Dupré brought a real sense of order to bear on his depictions of natural occurrences. His paintings of the setting sun, for example, render the fantastic, dreamlike quality of this essentially transient event, but also manage to convey a sense of universality and of permanence. There is a sense of austerity, almost studied severity, in Dupré's work that is wholly at variance with earlier painters such as Diaz, who simply sought the entertainment value in natural spectacle. Even so, some commentators accuse Dupré, 'the sunset painter', of only seeing nature in terms of the unusual, and of drama, in stark contrast to his contemporary Corot.

A revival of interest after 1870 in the work of the 1830 School did much to cheer his old age. However, a deep and lasting disagreement caused a rift between Dupré and his once close friend Théodore Rousseau. The dispute arose from their different techniques, which was a reflection of a fundamental difference in their characters. Rousseau, under the spell of Ruysdael and the Dutch, took analytical execution to an extreme, which was the exact opposite of Dupré's manner. The dispute arose over Rousseau's Chestnut Avenue. In vain, Dupré begged his friend not to overwork this painting, but to leave it in an ostensibly less finished state; Rousseau rejected what he saw as bad advice and persisted in his slow, painstaking completion of the picture. Dupré's simple straightforward approach, compared with Rousseau's, expresses the supremacy of spirit over matter, although a superficial observer may be misled by Dupré's use of concrete detail. This is another instance of his originality: he used thickly laid-on paint, sharp stones, rugged rocks, to contrast with his ideal conception of the overall effect, a method all the more startling when one considers how foreign to his nature was this meticulous attention to detail, and even contradictory to the spirit of his work (Benezit, Dictionary of Artists, Gründ, 2006).

Museum Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Louvre Museum, Paris
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
National Gallery, London
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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Jules Dupré Paintings Previously Sold

JULES DUPRÉ    Paysan Tisonnant un Feu   Oil on board 8½ x 14¼ inches (21.5 x 36.3 cm)  SOLD

Paysan Tisonnant un Feu
Oil on board
8½ x 14¼ inches (21.5 x 36.3 cm)