French Barbizon Works from the Tweed Museum's Permanent Collection

oil painting in green tones representing two male farmers digging a field
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875). "The Diggers", ca. 1855–56. Oil on canvas. Collection of the Tweed Museum of Art, UMD. Gift of Mrs. George P. (Alice) Tweed.

Through May 15, 2022 | Court Gallery

French Barbizon Works from the Tweed Museum’s Permanent Collection

The Tweed Museum highlights thirty-four artworks by eight core artists from the Barbizon school, which has originated in the small village of Barbizon on the perimeter of the Forest of Fontainebleau, located thirty-seven miles southeast of Paris. While two artists featured in the exhibition, Henri-Joseph Harpignies and Émile van Marcke, were technically not members of the Barbizon school, they are considered followers and pupils.

The Barbizon artists sought the serene forest and rural setting to escape industrialism and the harsh urban environment (along with many classical art traditions). After 1830 they increasingly embraced realism and naturalism, painting mainly landscapes; however, they also painted rustic cottages and farmhouses as well as people in the countryside attending to daily chores and farm animals. For the artists, the common, hardworking laborer was a significant symbol of human integrity. The imagery they chose conveys a sense of simplicity, purity, and innocence.

The artworks promoted important social and political purposes by not only preserving the idyllic past of nineteenth  Century France but the Forest of Fountainebleau itself. At the time, the artists Jean-François Millet and Théodore Rousseau, among others, objected to the French government’s plan for development in the forest that would disturb its trees and vegetation, animal and bird populations, and unique rock and boulder formations. The artists’ sanctuary of the forest in its preserved state gave them a spiritual connection to the environment and the freedom to express their creativity in both subject matter and aesthetics. 

By experimenting with sunlight, color, and texture, the Barbizon artists captured the reality of nature and people in a personal way. The close connection between the artists and their surroundings is evident in their work. Their ardent desire to encapsulate the reality of the sky and the light through the trees, the sunset, and the details of a flock of sheep, or a woman preparing a meal with her child, for instance, is what makes the Barbizon tradition visually and historically meaningful.

About the Tweed Collection

George P. Tweed’s family came to Duluth in 1888 from Warsaw, Minnesota. His career began in real estate and lending until he branched out into iron mining. After 1922 he became involved in banking and finance. By that time he was quite wealthy, and like many successful businessmen of the 1920s and early 1930s, Tweed began collecting art. He and his wife, Alice, collected more than five hundred European and American artworks from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, including Baroque, Dutch and Italian Renaissance, French Barbizon, and Impressionist-influenced American landscapes.