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Jules Louis Philippe Coignet

(1798–1860, Paris)

Study of a Tree. Oil on cardboard. 40.5 x 32 cm. Verso with the studio stamp (Lugt 451 c).

This delicate and fluid study is a good example of the efforts of French plein-air painting as practised from the early 19th century onwards by artists like Corot and the painters of the Barbizon School. In its closeness to nature, unpretentiousness and the care taken to capture fleeting phenomena of light and atmosphere, this oil study may be said to possess a general validity. All genrelike elements and indications of local colour have been dispensed with. Thus this intimate nature impression could basically have been produced anywhere, as Coignet was a keen traveller throughout his artistic career, being active as a landscape painter in Italy, Sicily, Normandy, Brittany and other regions of France.

Trained by the landscape painter Jean-Victor Bertin, Coignet gradually distanced himself from the stringent Classicism of his tutor. The artist achieved considerable success in the 1830s with romantically picturesque landscapes, for which he collected the subjects on trips to Greece, Egypt and the Near East.

However, this tree study with its spontaneous, unaffected observation of nature reveals a more personal and private aspect of his art. The various textures of the tree trunk, the finely gradated shades of the mixed woodland and the play of the late afternoon light on the rocks are subtly and sensitively rendered with deft and accurate strokes of the brush. The mood is meditative, testifying to a deep respect for the eternal life force and beauty of nature.

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