Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Pena (French, 1807-1876) was one of the foremost figures of the first generation of Barbizon artists. He, along with Rousseau, Millet, Daubigny, Corot, Dupré, Jacque and Troyon, established the Barbizon movement that drew hundreds of artists to the forest of Fontainebleau over the course of the nineteenth century.
Diaz was born to Spanish emigrant parents on August 20, 1807 in Bordeaux. At the young age of seventeen, Diaz went to work for a printer, then for a porcelain manufacturer, where he met the young Jules Dupré and Nicolas-Louis Cabat, both of whom would also later work at Fontainebleau Forest, as well as the painter Auguste Raffet. Immersed in this group, Diaz honed his skill at the higher arts with a few lessons from François Souchon (1787-1857) and by copying at the Louvre.
Woodland and forest scenes abound in Diaz’s oeuvre, and account for some of his finest, and most admired, works. Perhaps his greatest champion was the critic Théophile Thoré, who, in a review of the Salon of 1846, noted of the artist that he ‘shows us not a tree or a figure, but the effect of sunlight on this figure or on that tree.’ Two years earlier, Thoré had written that, ‘Monsieur Diaz has studied much in the most virginal corners of the Forest of Fontainebleau...The trees, the terrain, the shadows in his landscapes have an appearance that is strange and very poetic.’