Jules Dupré was the son of a painter turned industrialist in the vicinity of Creil, where his father had a porcelain factory. The young man began by working in the factory decorating plates, but also worked at painting in his own time. He accompanied his father to St-Yrieix, where Dupré senior had set up another factory - a key event for one who was to become the painter par excellence of the Limousin region.
Dupré's career as a painter began in 1831, when, having newly arrived in Paris, he showed seven pieces at the Salon, including landscapes of the Haute-Vienne, of Montmorency and a view of L'Isle-Adam. He took some lessons from Jean-Michel Diebolt, once a pupil of Demarne, and Dupré's celebrated work Indiana appeared in 1832.
In Paris, the young painter soon made the acquaintance of a wide circle of artists and writers. George Sand had come to Paris at around the same time as Dupré. Most importantly, he made friends with artists of the then-flourishing 1830 School, painters such as Troyon, Daubigny, Millet, Cabat and Paul Huet. In particular, Dupré formed a long-standing friendship with Théodore Rousseau, whose career was just beginning in 1832. He also greatly enjoyed going to the countryside to work from nature, with companions such as J. André, Troyon or Cabat. They would often spend several weeks at a time in the Indre or Berry regions. Perennially short of funds himself (he once claimed, 'I'll have enough to eat by the time I've no longer got a stomach'), he nevertheless sold a number of his pictures in order to raise funds for needy friends; Rousseau and Millet both had occasion to call on his help.
In 1834 Dupré accepted an invitation from Lord Grave to travel to England, where he visited London, Plymouth and Southampton, and came into contact with Constable, Turner, Crome, Bonington and other English masters, who made a deep impression on him. On his return he showed a view of Southampton at the 1835 Salon to great acclaim. He was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1849; however, he had stopped contributing to the annual Salons for several years from 1839 onwards, only showing again in 1852. There then followed another long absence from public exhibition; his work was not seen in the Salons again until 1867, the year of the first Exposition Universelle. The paintings he showed at the Salon from 1831 to 1867 were as follows: in 1831, Inside the Forest; A View in Haute-Vienne; Edge of Woodland, Haute-Vienne; Courtyard Interior; Montmorency Valley; View of L'Isle-Adam; View of the Montmorency Valley; in 1833: Supper Time (a sketch from nature); View near Argentan (Orne); View near Paris; View of a Courtyard, Montmorency Valley; Interior of a Covered Yard (study); in 1834: View near Argenton-sur-Creuse; View near Châteauroux (Indre); View Inside a Cottage in the Berry; View near Abbeville; in 1835: View in the Limousin Pastureland; View of Abbeville; Study in the Creuse Woods; View in Southampton; in 1836: A View in England; Interior of a Limousin Cottage (watercolour); in 1839: Bridge in the Village of St-Paul across the Le Faye River (Indre); Bridge over the Le Faye River; View in the Bas-Limousin (Corrèze); A View in Normandy; Women Bathers; View in the Département of the Indre; Animals Crossing a Ford; in 1852: Pastureland. Edge of a Hamlet in the Landes; Setting Sun; in 1867 (Exposition Universelle): Animals Crossing a Bridge in the Berry; Forest of Compiègne; The Gorge des Eaux-Chaudes (Basses-Pyrénées); A Sheep-Run in the Berry; Turn in the Road; Forest of Compiègne; The Watergate; Recollection of the Landes; A Marsh in the Sologne; Road through the Landes; Willow Trees; Return of the Livestock; A Watercourse in Picardy. In 1867 Jules Dupré painted the canvas Morning and Evening for the Hôtel Demidoff (now in the Louvre).
Dupré's claim that 'the sky is behind the tree, in the tree, in front of the tree' reveals an important aspect of his artistic approach, namely that he regarded atmosphere as more significant than anything else in the representation of nature. Certainly, he put very few people into his pictures. Before him, in the 17th and 18th centuries, landscape had been thought of almost in theatrical terms, with the sky as a 'backdrop' for different 'scenes'. By contrast, Dupré brought a real sense of order to bear on his depictions of natural occurrences. His paintings of the setting sun, for example, render the fantastic, dreamlike quality of this essentially transient event, but also manage to convey a sense of universality and of permanence. There is a sense of austerity, almost studied severity, in Dupré's work that is wholly at variance with earlier painters such as Diaz, who simply sought the entertainment value in natural spectacle. Even so, some commentators accuse Dupré, 'the sunset painter', of only seeing nature in terms of the unusual, and of drama, in stark contrast to his contemporary Corot.
A revival of interest after 1870 in the work of the 1830 School did much to cheer his old age. However, a deep and lasting disagreement caused a rift between Dupré and his once close friend Théodore Rousseau. The dispute arose from their different techniques, which was a reflection of a fundamental difference in their characters. Rousseau, under the spell of Ruysdael and the Dutch, took analytical execution to an extreme, which was the exact opposite of Dupré's manner. The dispute arose over Rousseau's Chestnut Avenue. In vain, Dupré begged his friend not to overwork this painting, but to leave it in an ostensibly less finished state; Rousseau rejected what he saw as bad advice and persisted in his slow, painstaking completion of the picture. Dupré's simple straightforward approach, compared with Rousseau's, expresses the supremacy of spirit over matter, although a superficial observer may be misled by Dupré's use of concrete detail. This is another instance of his originality: he used thickly laid-on paint, sharp stones, rugged rocks, to contrast with his ideal conception of the overall effect, a method all the more startling when one considers how foreign to his nature was this meticulous attention to detail, and even contradictory to the spirit of his work.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Amsterdam: Symphony; The Sea
Nantes (MBA): Morning; Evening
Paris (Louvre): The Pool; The Small Cart; Autumn; The Pool; Pastures in Normandy; Landscape with River; Cattle by the Water; The Landes; River Banks; The Great Oak; Sun Setting over a Marsh; Sun Setting after a Storm; Morning; Evening; Landscape Study; Self-portrait
Pau (MBA): The Cirque de Gavarnie (1844)
Rennes (MBA): Landscape
Rheims (MBA): Windmills (1835); Water Trough (1836); Landscape with Watercourse; Boat Aground; Seascape; Landscape with Sheep; Dairymaid
St-Quentin: Forest of Fontainebleau
Stockholm: Cattle by a River in Woodland
The Hague (Mus. Mesdag): seven landscapes
Wroclaw: Peasant Interior