Pierre Étienne Théodore Rousseau (April 15, 1812 - December 22, 1867), French painter of the Barbizon school, was born in Paris, of a bourgeois family.
At first he received a business training, but soon displayed aptitude for painting. Although his father regretted the decision at first, he became reconciled to his forsaking business, and throughout the artist's career (for he survived his son) was a sympathizer with him during his conflicts with the Paris Salon authorities. Théodore Rousseau shared the difficulties of the romantic painters of 1830 in securing for their pictures a place in the annual Paris exhibition. The influence of classically trained artists was against them, and not until 1848 was Rousseau presented adequately to the public. The Fisherman, 1848-9. He had exhibited one or two unimportant works in the Salon of 1831 and 1834, but during 1836 his great work "La descente des vaches" was rejected by the vote of the classic painters; and from then until after the revolution of 1848 he was persistently refused. He was not without champions in the press, and with the title of "le grand refusé" he became known through the writings of Thoré, the critic who afterwards resided in England and wrote by the name Burger. During these years of artistic exile Rousseau produced some of his best pictures: "The Chestnut Avenue", "The Marsh in the Landes" (now in theLouvre), "Hoar-Frost" (now in America); and during 1851, after the reorganization of the Salon during 1848, he exhibited his masterpiece, "The Edge of the Forest" (also in the Louvre), a picture similar in treatment to, but slightly varied in subject from, the composition named "A Glade in the Forest of Fontainebleau", in the Wallace Collection at Hertford House, London. Barbizon and maturity Until this period Rousseau had lived only occasionally at Barbizon, but during 1848 he took up his residence in the forest village, and spent most of his remaining days in the vicinity. He was now able to obtain fair sums for his pictures (but only about one-tenth of their value thirty years after his death), and the number of his admirers increased. He was still ignored by the authorities, for while Narcisse Virgilio Diaz was made Chevalier of the Legion of Honour during 1851, Rousseau was left undecorated at this time, but was nominated and awarded the Cross soon afterwards. He would eventually became an Officer of the Legion of Honor. At the Exposition Universelle of 1853, where all Rousseau's rejected pictures of the previous twenty years were gathered together, his works were acknowledged to form one of the best of the many splendid groups there exhibited. But, after an unsuccessful sale of his works by auction during 1861, he contemplated leaving Paris for Amsterdam orLondon, or even New York. Later years Barbizon landscape, ca. 1850. Rousseau then suffered a series of misfortunes. His wife, who had been a source of constant anxiety for years, became almost hopelessly insane; his aged father became dependent on him for pecuniary assistance; his patrons were few. Moreoever, while he was temporarily absent with his invalid wife, a youth living in his home (a friend of his family) committed suicide in his Barbizon cottage; when he visited the Alps during 1863, making sketches of Mont Blanc, he became dangerously ill with inflammation of the lungs; and when he returned to Barbizon he suffered from insomnia and became gradually weakened. He was elected president of the fine-art jury for the 1867 Exposition; however, his disappointment at being denied the better awards may have affected his health, for during August he became paralyzed. He recovered slightly, but was again attacked several times during the autumn. Finally, during November, he died in the presence of his lifelong friend, Jean-François Millet, on December 22, 1867. Millet, the peasant painter, for whom Rousseau had the greatest regard, had been much with him during the last years of his life, and at his death Millet assumed charge of the insane wife. Rousseau's other friend and neighbor, Jules Dupré, himself an eminent landscape painter of Barbizon, relates the difficulty Rousseau experienced in knowing when his picture was finished, and how he, Dupré, would sometimes take away from the studio some canvas on which Rousseau was laboring too long. Rousseau was a good friend to Diaz, teaching him how to paint trees, for until a certain time of his career Diaz considered he could only paint figures.