The Barbizon School

Bronze-Clad "Barbizon School" Bookends of a Shepherdess with Her Flock (LEO Design)

The Barbizon School of French painting flourished in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (approximately 1830-1870), an important and innovative movement before Impressionism entered the scene (later in the century).  The British painter, John Constable, was exhibited at the Salon de Paris in 1824.  His landscapes, naturalism and manner of painting directly from nature was an antidote to the more formal "Academic" French painting that had been en vogue—and some of the younger French painters were inspired by his fresh, soft, Romantic Realism.

Barbizon, itself, is a village about 35 miles Southeast of Paris.  It became a retreat (and inspiration and subject) for these young painters who came to be called The Barbizon School.  Camille Corot was one of the village's inhabitant-pioneers, whose work gives a peek at the movement to come (though some art scholars consider him a predecessor to the true Barbizon Movement).  Charles-Françoise Daubigny is one of my favorite Barbizon painters.  And Jean-Françoise Millet lived and worked there, too, however he included peasants, lots of animals and other scenes of village life which make him stand-apart from the other "strictly-landscape" adherents to the Barbizon style.

This pair of bronze-clad bookends, made in the 1910's or 1920's by Armor Bronze (NYC), shows a French shepherdess, sheaf of wheat over her shoulder, leading her flock homeward.  Though I have not found a similarly-composed Barbizon painting, I suspect it could be an original composition, inspired by Millet (or one of his Barbizon brethren).

I was struck by the bookends' theological symbolism, as well.  In the Christian faith, the careful and loving "tending of sheep" is a metaphor for Christ's (or any Christian leader's) safe guidance of "the faithful" to their home (ultimately, Heaven).  In this pair of bookends, the wheat over the shepherdess's shoulder gives the suggestion of wings—perhaps implying that she is an angelic guide for the vulnerable faithful.

Please click on the photo above to learn more about these bookends.


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