Alexandre Defaux (1847 - 1916)

Alexandre Defaux is a central figure among the second generation of painters associated with the Forest of Fontainebleau and the small town of Barbizon.  He is best known for paintings of sunlit farmyards filled with beautifully observed chickens or squabbling geese, although he was equally attracted to simple, quiet woodland scenes, uninterrupted by human or animal activity.  He painted almost exclusively in the Barbizon region or in lower Normandy.  While much of his oeuvre continues the well-established repertoire of Barbizon subjects – scenes of farm life, domestic animals, and forest interiors, Defaux also responded to more modern country imagery, depicting Parisian holiday seekers boating on shaded waterways, other landscape artists painting beneath large parasols, or picnicers sharing country paths with meandering sheep.  Primarily known as a painter in oils, Defaux occasionally produced exquisitely colored pastels and watercolors.

Defaux was born on September 27, 1826 in Bercy, then on the outskirts of Paris.  He described himself as a pupil of Corot and his earliest known landscapes certainly reflect the influence of the older master’s more conservative compositions of the 1840s, with great panoramic views of vaguely Italian towns and figures in Neapolitan peasant garb.

During the 1850s, Defaux painted a number of views of quaint Normandy towns and grand medieval churches, the standard picturesque imagery that was very popular among both French and foreign tourists.  But from his first Salon exhibits in 1859, Defaux displayed a strong commitment to more controversial landscape subjects such as the quarries around Montmartre and the dense forest interiors of the Fontainebleau region.  As he took on a broader range of motifs he also adopted stronger color schemes and more painterly techniques that suggest his expanding connections with other Barbizon artists such as Rousseau, Diaz, and Jacques.  Defaux was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon until his death, and he was generally admired by the critics for his skill with all the painters’ tools: brush, palette knife – one critic even commented that he did not hesitate to use his thumb if need-be!

Defaux received a third-class medal in 1874, a second class medal in 1879 and was admitted to the Legion d’honneur in 1881.  His grand view of the Breton hillsides, Le Port de Pont-Aven, was purchased by the French nation in 1880, but his support came largely from private collectors rather than the government.  Defaux was one of the artists taken up by the most successful of the French dealers dominating the international art trade during the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, Georges Petit.  The late 1870’s and 1880’s appear to have been the period of Defaux’s greatest success, with frequent approving mentions from Salon critics throughout the decade of the 1880s.  Defaux’s work was especially appreciated for his ability to combine strong painterly techniques with appealing subject matter and a true feeling for the French countryside.  He was awarded the Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900.  His work is widely represented in museums throughout France.

In the last year of his life, Defaux was awarded the Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900.  His work is widely represented in museums throughout France, although still only little known in the United States.