Jean Achille Benouville, a French painter, was born in Paris in 1815. He trained first in the studio of François-Édouard Picot and then in the studio of Léon Cogniet, both painters linked to the academic language and specialised in history, mythology and official portraiture.
The classical landscape
Despite his traditional training, when he was still very young, he went to the nearby countryside of Fontainebleau and Compiègne to paint en plein air, thus specialising in landscapes. However, Jean Achille Benouiville’s first works still show a strong link with the classical landscape approach.
In his first wide-ranging compositions, one can discern the luminous and balanced memory of Claude Lorrain’s landscapes, with the classic succession of parallel planes neatly arranged in a frame of arboreal wings, modulated in a perfect chromatic sensitivity. He also specialised in historical landscapes, which he exhibited for the first time at the Paris Salon in 1834.
His experience in Rome and his contact with Corot: a looser and more “real” landscape
From 1837 onwards, he attended the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, winning the Prix de Rome with the landscape painting Ulysses and Nausicaa. The opportunity to perfect his skills in Rome gave Jean Achille Benouville a wide range of new ideas, including meeting Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, with whom he shared the Villa Medici studio in Rome in the early 1840s.
This relationship was immediately reflected in the painter’s works: from the classical rigidity of traditional and historical views, he moved on to a vision modulated on impressions from life, gathered during painting sessions en plein air in the Roman countryside. Corot, a painter who symbolised the landscape revolution along with the Barbizon School, represents the transition from the classical, optically impeccable view to a more subjective conception, freer from academic impositions and more focused on the real thing, on the fragment, on chromatic and luministic freedom.
With the exception of a few interruptions, Jean Achille Benouville remained in Rome until the 1870s, pursuing his new naturalistic research and continuing to send his works to the Salon.
Among his most significant works produced in Italy are a number of large-scale urban views that combine a classical approach with an increasing fluency of colour, including The Vatican seen from the Tiber, The Colosseum seen from the Palatine and A Roman Villa, where light takes on a predominant role: It is no longer the instrument that fills the landscape with a diffuse and limpid luminosity, but is now a personal element that builds, together with colour, clusters of houses, fragments of green, clouds, in a view that is increasingly marked by naturalism. Among the views dedicated to the Roman countryside are Tivoli, Ruins of ancient aqueducts in the Roman countryside, Ponte Nomentano, Acquedotto Claudio, Lunghezza (surroundings of Rome) and View of Ariccia.