Narcisse Virgilio Díaz de la Peña (1807-1876)

Narcisse Virgilio Díaz de la Peña (1807 - 1876) was a French painter of the Barbizon School. Díaz was born in Bordeaux to Spanish parents. At the age of ten, Díaz became an orphan, and misfortune dogged his early years.

His foot was bitten by a reptile in Meudon wood, near Sevres where he had been taken to live with some friends of his mother. The bite was poorly dressed, and ultimately he lost his leg. However, as it turned out, the wooden stump that replaced his leg became famous. At fifteen he entered the studios at Sèvres, first working in the decoration occupied him and later turning to painting. Oriental scenes attracted him, and he took to painting Eastern figures dressed in richly coloured garments; many of these paintings remain extant. He also spent much time at Barbizon. Around 1831 Díaz encountered Rousseau for whom he possessed a great veneration, despite the fact that Rousseau was four years his junior.

At Fontainbleau Díaz found Rousseau painting his wonderful forest pictures, and was determined to paint in the same way if possible. However, Rousseau was then in poor health, embittered against the world, and consequently was difficult to approach.

On one occasion, 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 eagerness to understand the latter's techniques. Rousseau was touched with the passionate words of admiration, and finally taught Diaz all he knew. Díaz exhibited many pictures at the Paris Salon and was decorated in 1851. After 1871, his works became fashionable and rose gradually in the estimation of collectors, and he worked constantly and successfully.

Díaz's finest pictures are his forest scenes and storms, and it is on these that his fame rests. There are several examples of his work in the Louvre and three small figure pictures in the Wallace collection.

Perhaps the most notable of Díaz's works are "La Fée aux Perles" (1857, housed in the Louvre); "Sunset in the Forest" (1868); "The Storm" and "The Forest of Fontainebleau". Díaz himself had no well-known pupils, but Francois Visconti showed emulation his work to some degree and Leon Richot followed markedly his methods of tree-painting. For a period, Millet also painted small figures in avowed imitation of Díaz's then popular subjects In 1876, while visiting his son's grave, he caught a cold. On November 18 of that year he died.