Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña overcame the hardships of his early life to become one of the most respected artists of the 19th century.
Born in Bordeaux to Spanish parents who were fleeing Joseph Bonaparte's Spain, Diaz de la Peña was orphaned by the age of 10. Following an accident, he lost his leg to blood poisoning.
While under the care of a priest near Paris, he apprenticed at the
studios at Sevres and by the age of 15 he began painting porcelain.
Simultaneously, Narcisse began to copy and study the works of the great masters in the Louvre. He was particularly drawn to the works
of Correggio and Watteau, and to the works of the Colourists.
Narcisse also learnt from his contemporaries, in particular from
Delacroix's orientalist works. His meeting with Rousseau at Barbizon in 1836 was crucial to Narcisse's artistic development, as Rousseau
introduced him to the great Dutch masters and encouraged him to paint
landscapes. Narcisse thrived in this genre and thus became one of the
leading lights of the Barbizon movement as he developed his unique
style. This school would dominate French landscape painting throughout the 1860s, in which the artists painted en plain air trying to
capture faithfully the natural world on canvas.
During the 1840s Narcisse was awarded three Salon gold medals for painting and in 1851 was named a Knight of the Legion of Honour. His works can be found in most major museums throughout the world, in particular the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Wallace Collection, the National Gallery, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Victoria and Albert Museum.