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Autumnal Wood with Small Stream. Watercolour. 46.5 x 30 cm. With red studio stamp (Lugt 1268).
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Paul Huet, who was admitted to the Parisian École des Beaux Arts in 1820 and studied under Antoine-Jean Gros and Pierre Narcisse Guérin, is considered one of the founders of Romantic landscape painting in France. Of key significance for his artistic career were his friendships with Eugène Delacroix and Richard Parkes Bonington, who were important sources of inspiration. It was Bonington who introduced Huet to the English painting of the day, particularly through his 1824 visit to the first exhibition of the works of John Constable in France. Michelet rightly described Huet as the “rénovateur du paysage français”.
From the 1820s onwards Huet devoted himself intensely to open-air painting. His first ventures in this field include the magnificent plein air studies which he painted in the park of Saint-Cloud at that time. As a landscape artist pur sang, Huet was an inveterate traveller, visiting such places as Normandy, the Auvergne, the south of France, Spain, Italy, Holland and Belgium. Significantly, he drew his main inspiration from the nordic countryside. The stressing of the element of mood in his landscapes and the artistic treatment of light in all its different textures make him a precursor of the Barbizon school – representing a generation almost a decade younger – and one of the main exponents of the paysage intime.
Huet was a very gifted water-colourist with a keen mastery of the tonal and atmospheric potential of the medium. This moodladen nature study of a wood in autumn probably belongs to the artist’s late work. The simple, unspectacular depiction testifies to his remarkably fresh gift of observation and profound feeling for nature. A gentle melancholy pervades the autumnal wood. The bare, slender tree trunks lend the composition a pleasing rhythm which is reinforced by the choice of the upright format. The blending of the muted tints of terrain, water and foliage is masterly. Huet’s technique is sweeping and confident, never getting lost in detail and thus achieving a certain measure of abstraction that sometimes seems to anticipate the watercolours of Cézanne.