21. Achille-Etna Michallon

Paris 1796 – 1822 Paris

The Oak and the Reed, 1816

Born into a family of artists, Michallon was a precocious talent. He joined the École des Beaux-Arts in 1810, where he studied perspective under Valenciennes, and first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1812. A decade later, just a month short of his twenty-sixth birthday, the artist succumbed to pneumonia. Despite the brevity of his career, as the first ever recipient of the Prix de Rome for historical landscape in 1817 and a teacher of Corot, Michallon holds an important place in the history of plein air painting. The Oak and the Reed takes its subject from Aesop’s fables. The mighty oak – snapped in two by the strong winds – and the yielding reed are painted with meticulous naturalism, while the addition of a tiny wind-swept figure at lower left enhances the drama of the scene. Though the painting was not executed in the open air, the trees were informed by closely observed nature studies.1 Michallon is known to have painted in the countryside surrounding Paris and the Forest of Fontainebleau before setting off on his Italian journey in 1818.