Study of a Tree by Jean Achille Bénouville


A large drawing by an indefatigable observer of nature.
Study of a Tree by Jean Achille Bénouville.

Jean Achille Bénouville

Paris 1815 – 1891

Study of a Tree 

Charcoal heightened with white chalk on grey paper.

409 x 319 mm – 16 1/8 x 12 9/16 in.

Provenance: Studio stamps Lugt 228 B on the recto, lower left, and Lugt 228a (numbered 129), on the verso; probably in the studio sale, Paris, 16 Januray 1901 (expert G. Petit).


Jean Achille Bénouville was trained in Paris first under Léon Cogniet and then Édouard Picot, and traveled to Italy on several occasions even before winning the Rome Prize. In 1843-1844 he met Corot in Rome and worked with him. In 1845, while his brother Léon won the first prize for history painting, his Ulysses and Nausicaa earned him the Grand prize for historical landscape. He left for the regulation four years of study in Rome, where he remained in reality for 25 years. He continued, all the same, to send works frequently to the Salon and to visit France. Only in 1871 did he definitely return to Paris, three years before the first Impressionist exhibition. 

Bénouville’s extended stay in the Eternal City had kept him apart from the innovations in landscape painting, especially the Realism of Courbet and the Barbizon School. He continued to promote a classical tradition enriched with different influences assimilated in Rome, which has led to Marie-Madeleine Aubrun writing that “if there is one artist who illustrates, undeniably and in a seductive manner, the continuity of classical landscape until the stampede of the Impressionists, it is the independent painter Jean- Achille Bénouville” (Marie-Madeleine Aubrun, Achille Bénouville 1815-1891, 1986, p. 46).

Bénouville executed numerous studies of trees on this typical grey paper, striking by their simplicity and modernity. He shows trees as individual subjects, worthy of interest beyond their vocation to be inserted in a painted historical landscape. His placing this tree on the right side of the sheet and leaving a large part of the bare paper on the left side, as well as the intelligent repartition of light contrasts in the branches, reveal the artist’s perception of the tree as an independent and meaningful per se graphic pattern. These characteristics can also be found in a drawing at the Petit Palais.

Condition report – Good overall condition. Some buckeling on the left side.