Henri Joseph Harpignies was born in Valenciennes, France on July 28, 1819. His parent’s, who were of the upper class Belgian origin, moved the family to France and established a sugar beet factory in Famars around 1825. Harpignies family had always positioned him to be a businessman, however he always had a passion for the arts. He began to draw at the early age of four and once in school, notably excelled in all his arts classes, receiving multiple first place prizes for drawing contests.
After an extended trip through France at the age of 27, he found solace in nature, sketching diligently in hopes of reproducing the pleasing landscapes he was privy to. As a result of this trip, he developed an even stronger interest in painting and began to study with landscape painter Jean Achard. Under his tutelage, he traveled to Holland, Brussels in 1849, where he published an album with 13 etched landscapes showcasing views of the Belgian village of Rosin. They also traveled to Flanders to learn from the northern landscape artists of the 17th century. From Achard, Harpignies acquired a groundwork of sound constructive draughtsmanship, which would prove to be a noted feature in Henri Joseph Harpignies paintings. He also began to experiment with copper engravings under Achard’s influence. In 1850, after two years under Achard, he went took a trip through Germany, then the Netherlands and Italy, eventually finding his way back to France. He established his own studio in Paris in 1852, where he met fellow artists Jean-Leon Gerome, Lean-Louis Hamon, and Corot.
Harpignies was clearly not following in the footsteps of his contemporaries, who were committed to rural landscapes, heavily populated with realistic themes from everyday Parisian life. The following year, Harpignies moved outside of Paris to continue his plein aire painting. The trees and forest interiors of Fontainebleau were among his favorite themes. He was greatly influenced by the Barbizon painters, particularly Constant Troyon and Corot. Despite drawing clear inspiration from the Barbizon and Fontainebleau schools, he did not consider himself to be associated with either tradition, instead favoring Rome as his main tutor.
Harpignies traveled to Naples and while he originally only intended to stay for six days, his short trip turned into a six month artist residency. He also traveled to Capri and Mount Vesuvius, both serving as “enchanting” inspiration for many paintings. He then returned to Rome and remained there through the winter of 1852, before returning to Paris. From 1853 to 1856, he experimented with figural compositions, especially children in landscape settings, but thereafter primarily devoted himself to landscapes. His experimental style and composition were elegant and distinct. His expressive brushstrokes were delicate yet concise, and were complimented by the color palette which he used to play with light, emotion and mood. These motifs are among the trademarks of Henri Joseph Harpignies paintings.
Harpignies made his debut at the Salon in 1853 at 34 years old; he showed three paintings, the most notable being Vue Prise dans l’lle de Capri, Golfe de Naples. He continued to partake in the exhibitions until 1863. From 1860 to 1865 he traveled to Italy, sometimes in the company of his now dear friend Jean-Baptiste Corot, where he was further inspired. He returned with many landscape paintings that earned him praise. On his return from his earlier travels, his painting Lisere de bois sur les bords de L’Allier showed successfully at the 1861 Paris Salon. Between 1864 and 1866, Harpignies also exhibited watercolors with Italian landscapes. He won his first Salon medal at the 1866 show for Le Soir dans la Campagne de Rome, and continued to win at the 1868 and 1869 Salons. In 1881 he was admitted to the Societe des Aquarellistes Francais. Other accomplishments include winning a silver medal at The Exposition Universelle of 1878, being honored by the Grande Medaille d’Honneur in 1897, and winning the Grand prix at the Exposition Universelle of 1900.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a change in Harpignes style occurred. His failing sight forced him to neglect meticulous details and focus on simply bringing the larger shapes into effect. His color palette also changed, as his beaming colorfulness was replaced by a softer, silvery tonality. His style reverted to a style more indicative of his hero and friend Corot, which is evident in his lyrical perception of nature.
Harpignies continued to submit to the Salon until 1913, when he exhibited Vallee de Castellar; environs de Menton and Oliviers a Menton. He continued to paint until his death, despite being almost blind.
Harpignies died in St, Privé, France in 1916. He was eulogized by Anatole France as the “Michelange des Arbres” (the Michelangelo of trees). His talent as a landscape painter is evident throughout the impressive body of work he produced during his prolific career.
Visit Galerie Michael to see original Henri Joseph Harpignies paintings.
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
Canajoharie Art Gallery, NY
Columbus Museum of Art, OH
Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland
National Gallery of Art, Dublin, Ireland
National Gallery of Scotland
Hermitage Museum, Leningrad
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Layton Art Gallery, Milwaukee, WI
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN
Ball State University Art Gallery, Muncie, IN
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA
Melton Park Gallery, Oklahoma City
Toledo Museum of Art, OH
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Cambridge Museum, Mass.
Fogg Museum, Mass.
Chicago Art Institute
Cleveland Museum of Fine Arts
London National Gallery
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Fine Art, Philadelphia
Clark Institute, MA
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
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