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Nicolas Poussin, A Path Leading Into a Forest Clearing, about 1635-1640. Pen and brown ink and brown wash. 38.6 X 24.6. 96.GA.24. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES, CA.- On view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, July 28 - November 1, 2009, Capturing Nature’s Beauty: Three Centuries of French Landscape draws from the Getty’s drawings collection including some works from the Getty Research Institute, to highlight key moments in the French landscape tradition, from its emergence in the 1600s to its preeminence in the 1800s.

French artists have depicted landscape since the late Middle Ages. In early works—manuscript illuminations, wall paintings, tapestries—landscape played a role, but only to serve as a background for human activities. It did not become an independent and respected artistic subject until the 1620s, when French artists began to turn it into a specialty.

It wasn’t until the middle of the eighteenth century that the practice became actively encouraged in academic training. In the so-called academic hierarchy of the genres, which ranked subjects according to their intellectual or moral content, pure landscape was placed low—beneath history painting and portraiture—and considered a secondary genre. Yet it was commonly accepted among artists and connoisseurs that all landscapes did not have equal status: the more idealized a landscape, the more respect it was likely to command. Therefore, this concept of idealization in landscape drawing was largely perpetuated by French artists well into the 1800s.

Capturing Nature’s Beauty demonstrates a wide variety of techniques, functions, and styles thatattest to the richness of the French landscape tradition. The exhibition showcases the work of major exponents of the genre, including Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Vincent van Gogh, and Camille Pissarro, among others.

“This exhibition features a wonderful selection of drawings from the Getty’s collection that examines the creative ways French artists represented landscapes,” explains Édouard Kopp, assistant curator of drawings and curator of the exhibition. “Together the works in this exhibition reveal a fascinating tension between a passion for the real and the quest for an ideal.”

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Camille Pissarro, Louveciennes, Route de Saint-Germain, 1871. Watercolor over black chalk. 30.2 X 49.2 cm. 2007.1. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles