Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña

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Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Peña

French painter and printmaker

Born 8/25/1808 - Died 11/18/1876

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DÍAZ DE LA PEÑA, NARCISSE-VIRGILE (1808-1876), French painter, was born in Bordeaux of Spanish parents, on the 25th of August 1808. At first a figure-painter who indulged in strong color, in his later life Díaz became a painter of the forest and a tone artist of the first order. He spent much time at Barbizon; and although he is the least exalted of the half-dozen great artists who are usually grouped round that name, he sometimes produced works of the highest quality. At the age of ten Diaz became an orphan, and misfortune dogged his earlier years. His foot was bitten by a reptile in Meudon wood, near Svres, where he had been taken to live with some friends of his mother. The bite was badly dressed, and ultimately it cost him his leg. Afterwards his wooden stump became famous. At fifteen he entered the studios at Svres, where the decoration of porcelain occupied him; but tiring of the restraint of fixed hours, he took to painting Eastern figures dressed in richly colored garments. Turks and Oriental scenes attracted him, and many brilliant gems remain of this period. About 1831 Díaz encountered Théodore Rousseau, for whom he entertained a great veneration, although Rousseau was four years his junior; but it was not until ten years later that the remarkable incident took place of Rousseau teaching Diaz to paint trees. At Fontainebleau Díaz found Rousseau painting his wonderful forest pictures, and determined to paint in the same way if possible. Rousseau, then in poor health, worried at home, and embittered against the world, was difficult to approach. Díaz followed him surreptitiously to the forest, wooden leg not hindering, and he dodged round after the painter, trying to observe his method of work. After a time Díaz found a way to become friendly with Rousseau, and revealed his anxiety to understand his painting. Rousseau was touched with the passionate words of admiration, and finally taught Díaz all he knew. Diaz exhibited many pictures at the Paris Salon, and was decorated in 1851. During the Franco-German War he went to Brussels. After 1871 he became fashionable, his works gradually rose in the estimation of collectors, and he worked constantly and successfully. In 1876 he caught cold at his son's grave, and on the 18th of November of that year he died at Mentone, whither he had gone to recruit his health. Díaz's finest pictures are his forest scenes and storms, and it is on these, and not on his pretty figures, that his fame is likely to rest. There are several fairly good examples of the master in the Louvre, and three small figure pictures in the Wallace collection, Hertford House. Perhaps the most notaLle of Díaz's works are La Fée aux Perles (1857), in the Louvre; Sunset in the Forest (1868); The Storm, and The Forest of Fontainebleau (1870) at Leeds. Díaz had no well-known pupils, but Leon Richet followed markedly his methods of tree-painting, and J. F. Millet at one period painted small figures in avowed imitation of Díaz's then popular subjects.

See A. Flustin, Les Artistes cilbres: Díaz (Paris); D. Croal Thomson, The Barbizon School of Painters (London, 1890); J. W. Mollett, Díaz (London, 1890); J. Claretie, Peintres et sculpteurs contemporains: Díaz (Paris, 1882); Albert Wolff, La Capitale de Lan: Narcisse Díaz (Paris, 1886); Ph. Burty, Maîtres et petitmaîtres: N. Díaz (Paris, 1877). (D.C.T.)

  • Biographical entry in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

  • Personal

    influence on

    student of

    23 May 64

    My dear de B(?)
    Please be kind enough as to come to my studio today. I would be very much obliged.
    I am shaking your hand
    N. Diaz

    Image courtesy of Don Kurtz

    Image courtesy of Don Kurtz