Narcisse Diaz de La Pena

Description: Narcissus DIAZ LA PEÑA 1807-1876 CHAGRIN Oil on panel signed lower left. 10″ x 7″

At fifteen he entered the studios at Sèvres, first working on the decoration of porcelain and later turning to painting. Turkish and Oriental scenes attracted him, and he took to painting Eastern figures dressed in richly coloured garments; many of these paintings remain extant. He also spent much time at Barbizon, near the Fontainebleau Forest, where some of his most famous paintings were made.One of his teachers and friends in Paris was François Souchon.

Around 1831 Díaz encountered Théodore Rousseau, for whom he possessed a great veneration, despite the fact that Rousseau was four years younger. At Fontainebleau Díaz found Rousseau painting his wonderful forest pictures, and was determined to paint in the same way if possible. However, Rousseau was then in poor health, embittered against the world, and consequently was difficult to approach. On one occasion, Diaz followed him surreptitiously to the forest, with his wooden leg hindering his advance, but he dodged around after the painter, trying to observe his method of work. After a time Díaz found a way to become friendly with Rousseau, and revealed his eagerness to understand the latter’s techniques. Rousseau was touched with the passionate words of admiration, and finally taught Diaz all he knew.

Díaz exhibited many pictures at the Paris Salon, and was decorated in 1851 with the rank of Chevalier (Knight) of the Légion d’honneur.During the Franco-German War (1870-1871) he went to Brussels. After 1871, his works became fashionable and rose gradually in the estimation of collectors, and he worked constantly and successfully. Díaz’s finest pictures are his forest scenes and storms, and it is on these that his fame rests. There are several examples of his work in the Louvre, and three small figure pictures in the Wallace Collection, Hertford House. Perhaps the most notable of Diaz’s works are “La Fée aux Perles” (1857, housed in the Louvre); “Sunset in the Forest” (1868); “The Storm” and “The Forest of Fontainebleau” (1870, housed at Leeds). The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds some two dozen works by Díaz, including another version of “The Forest of Fontainebleau,” and many drawings and studies.

Diaz himself had no well-known pupils, but François Visconti emulated his work to some degree and Léon Richet followed markedly his methods of tree-painting. For a period, Jean-François Millet also painted small figures in avowed imitation of Diaz’s then popular subjects Renoir once said “my hero was Díaz”.