Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld was born in Carpentras near Nîmes in 1758. Coming from a classicist landscape family, he was introduced to painting by his brother Jean-Pierre-Xavier. He then attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Lyon, where he specialised in landscape painting, initially following a lineage in the classical tradition and derived from Lorraine.
Among his first works are several mountain views due to a strong passion for the Swiss Alps, which he went to paint from life in the 1770s. In 1783, he moved to Paris, where he met an elderly Claude Joseph Vernet, who encouraged him to make the necessary and traditional educational trip to Italy.
His stay in Italy: from classical landscape to en plein air painting
Working for the Parisian art dealer Dulac, mainly as a copyist of 17th century Flemish works, he managed to get help with the expenses of organising the grand tour: he arrived in Rome in 1785 and stayed there until 1790. The Italian experience was fundamental to Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld’s artistic growth, not only because he succeeded in enriching his landscapes with a new, diffused light, but also because of his study of the paysage classique brought up in Rome by Lorrain and Poussin, from which he gradually seemed to distance himself by adopting a more modern conception.
In fact, in Italy, the painter came into contact with the generation of French landscape painters who changed the fate of classical vedute, opening the way to an unprecedented chromatic and luministic fluency, which would be inherited and developed mainly by Corot. Among the painters he met in Rome were Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, Jean-Victor Bertin and Didier Boguet, who accompanied him in the transition from a rigidly classicist and idealistic view to a choice that was much more modulated on reality.
The roman countryside
During his five-year stay in Italy, he went to paint en plein air in the Roman and Latium countryside, exploring Subiaco, Sora and Civita Castellana, but he also travelled to the neighbouring areas, falling in love with Narni, Abruzzo (in particular the Fucino Plain) and Naples, a fundamental stop on his grand tour.
A true interpreter of the essence of these places, he seems in part to anticipate the compositional freshness and lyrical dimension of Corot, who arrived in Italy about twenty years later than Jean-Joseph-Xavier Bidauld. The effects of light and a nature observed and described in its optical perfection, albeit in the application of an effective detachment from the ideal view, are the crucial features of his poetics. Compared to Vernet, he does not animate his Italian landscapes with small figurines of anecdotal value, but leaves them wide and solitary, where only nature can remain the protagonist. His paintings in Italy include: View of Subiaco, View of Tivoli, Fucino Lake and Abruzzo mountains, Grotta Ferrata and View of Sora.
He returned to France and took part in the Paris Salon from 1791 to 1844. During these years, he achieved resounding success, even obtaining commissions from King Louis XVIII. While in Italy he had expressed himself freely and with a naturalistic sensibility, in Paris he returned to the ways of a traditional neoclassicism lacking in modernity. In the 1920s he also worked on a series of scenes from French history for the Galerie de Diane in the royal palace of Fontainebleau. After buying Rousseau’s house (whom he admired greatly) in Montmorency, he died almost destitute in 1844, at the age of eighty-six.