PIERRE-HENRI DE VALENCIENNES (1750-1819)
FIGURES BY A STREAM IN AN ARCADIAN FOREST
Signed & dated in pen & ink l.l. p. valenciennes l'an 3 [the third year of the republic, 1794-95]
Indistinctly inscribed in black chalk u.l. of verso
Black chalk heightened with white on thick laid paper [no visible watermark]
37.5 x 51.3 cm
The artist's sale, 18 Quai des Orfèvres, Paris, 26-30.04.1819, Lot 15 (part of (1));
Private collection, France (with an old inventory label to frame 108)
Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes was a 'central figure...in the history of landscape painting in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, important both as a theoretician and a practicioner.' 
Valenciennes was born in Toulouse and trained at the Academy there, before travelling to Italy in 1769 and again in 1777, when he remained for the following eight years (travelling back to Paris on occasion). It was during this latter period that Valenciennes began his lifelong obsession with painting from nature en plein air, working in oils on paper by and large: the practice was a mainstay of practice for the pensionnaires of the French Academy in Rome, having been encouraged from the days of Nicolas Vleughels' tenure as director at the end of the 17th century; however, it was Valenciennes who pioneered the practice of making small oil-sketches on paper of anything that caught his eye on his walks around Rome and the surrounding campagna. These paintings captured effects of atmosphere, small architectural and environmental details and above all the warmth and richness of light in the city and wider province of Lazio. Alongside his plein-air oils, Valenciennes made hundreds of studies in pen & ink, the majority of which are still bound in their original sketchbooks, which are now part of the Louvre's collections.
Valenciennes returned to France to become a teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris from 1812, and nurtured the talents of future luminaries such as Achille-Etna Michallon and Jean-Victor Bertin, who would continue the tradition of sketching outdoors in oils and become famous artists in their own rights in subsequent years. Valenciennes postulated that such studies were absolutely necessary for painting the more ambitious, composed landscapes that were exhibited at the Salon; however, his primary objective was to elevate the status of landscape painting, which had historically been regarded as inferior to 'history' painting for centuries. His Élemens de perspective pratique (Paris, 1800) included a treatise on the genre, which argued that landscape paintings should be imbued with mythological or literary meanings (as the present sheet is with its recognisably Arcadian aspect), an interesting parallel to the nascent interest in the 'Sublime' that was already sweeping British and German intellectual circles.
Such was Valenciennes influence that a prize for the paysage historique was finally instituted by the Academy in 1816, but his reputation dimmed throughout the 19th century in spite of his outsize influence on generations of European artists. In 1930, 124 landscape sketches by the artist were gifted to Louvre, prompting a thorough reevaluation of his work and restoring his place as one of the most important landscape painters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
 Wheelock Whitney, 'Pierre-Henri Valenciennes: An Unpublished Document', in The Burlington Magazine, vol.118, no.877 (April, 1976), p.226:
'The next items sold were the drawings. Lot fifteen was a "Quantité de Livres de Croquis, Receueils de Dessins au trait à la sépia, représentant des Vues de Rome, faites d'après nature, et portrant, de la main de M. Valenciennes, le nom du lieu et la date : des Sujets animaux, des Etudes d'arbres, plantes, etc., des Costumes et Caricatures, et une infinité de Modèles pour les jeunes artistes." The compiler of the catalogue, having given this confused but colourful description of the contnts of the lot goes on to inform us, somewhat cryptically, that it will be "divisé pour la commodité des aquéreurs." Clearly, the comte de l'Espine eventually ended up with most of the drawings, since the six sketchbooks in the Louvre, which date from the artist's stay in Italy, come from his colleciton. The sketchbook in the Cabinet des Dessins of the Bibliothèque Nationale and that now in the Musée Paul-Duppuy in Toulouse were likewise probably sold as part of this lot.'
 C. Riopelle & X. Bray, A Brush With Nature: The Gere Collction of Landscape Oil Sketches (exhib. cat.), London (1999), p.162