Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Pena was born to Spanish emigrant parents on August 20, 1808 in Bordeaux. He survived the loss of a leg in a childhood accident and further suffered the death of his parents at age fifteen.
Diaz's artistic training was as a porcelain painter and he studied briefly with the painter Souchon. His early paintings catered to the popular taste for 18th century style Rococo and resulted in financial success for the young artist. Fetes galantes were favorite subjects and the women depicted in Diaz's canvases were often cloaked in exotic Turkish garb, reflecting the artist's admiration for Delacroix and his orientalist followers. Indeed Diaz's first Salon entry in 1831 was titled Scene Amour.
Diaz first visited Barbizon in 1835 and it was in 1837 that he met Rousseau. The influence of Rousseau could be seen in Diaz's Salon entry of that year depicting a view of Fontainebleau Forest. Through the 1840s, his figure paintings continued to be the major part of his work, and are thought to have influenced the female subjects of Corot, Renoir and certainly Monticelli.
Though figure painting would always remain important for Diaz, it is his landscapes of the 1850s-particularly of the Fontainebleau Forest-for which the artist is most remembered. Recognized as a superb colorist in his day, his forest interiors are richly painted with warm browns, oranges, golds and silvery tree trunks and branches. Though the artist often applied paint loosely with a broad palette knife, his observation of nature was nevertheless keen. A regular exhibitor at the Salon, in 1848 Diaz won a first-class medal, and received the Legion d'honneur. A good-natured and generous man, Diaz's financial success enabled him to lend a helping hand to his friends when in need, including Troyon, Rousseau and Millet. The artist died at Menton on November 18, 1876.
Museum Collections Include:
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Detroit Institute of Art, MI, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge; Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg; Louvre Museum Database, Paris; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery, London; Wallace Collection, London; Cleveland Museum of Art, OH; Courtauld Institute of Art, London; Mildred Lane Kemper Art Musuem, St. Louis; Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil & Wife Museum, Egypt; Montana Museum of Art & Culture, Missoula; Musee des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, France; National Gallery of Victoria, Australia; New Art Gallery, Walsall; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA; St. Louis Art Museum, MO; Victoria & Albert Museum, London