The founding father of the Barbizon School knew the French Alps from his childhood as that was where his father came from. In 1834 the twenty-two-year-old Rousseau toured the French Jura and Switzerland and spent several weeks in the area of the Col de la Faucille, whose constantly changing weather conditions never ceased to fascinate him.1 He painted this oil study sur le motif on the south side of the pass that crosses the Jura from north to south. What sets this work apart from the rather modest crop of oil paintings yielded by Rousseau’s trip is above all its size. The view of the plain of Lake Geneva has the effect of drawing the viewer in. The artist achieved this by contrasting the diagonal lines of the hillsides sloping away in the foreground with the finely gradated horizontal lines of the plain itself, on which the lake is no more than a streak of pale blue. The low clouds advancing from the horizon and already gathering overhead amplify this effect. Another painting of the Jura by Rousseau was rejected for inclusion in the Paris Salon two years later. Only when the Salon was liberalized in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution and Rousseau was awarded a medal at the 1849 event did he make his breakthrough at the institutional level. The crowning glory of his career, however, was the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1855, at which he exhibited no fewer than thirteen works.2 Rousseau undoubtedly ranks among the most influential figures in nineteenth-century landscape painting. His plein-air painting, most of which was done in the Forest of Fontainbleau, was a crucial source of inspiration for countless German artists and even more so for the French Impressionists.
The authenticity of this work was confirmed by Michael Schulmann in 2017. A photographic expert appraisal is available.