Before the nineteenth century professional artists may have sketched outdoors, but they never worked or painted in that environment, by the middle of the century however, the Barbizon school of painters were frequently composing and creating their entire works out of doors ("en plein air"). Though the individual methods and concepts of this school of painters differed considerably, they shared a common dedication to nature and expressed their desires to remain true to what their eyes were seeing in the landscape and atmosphere.
One painter to enter into the Barbizon school a bit later than others was Narcisse-Virgile Diaz de la Pena. Orphaned at a young age, and left disabled by the loss of a single leg due to blood poisoning, he would initially work as a ceramics painter in Sevres before moving on to his own canvases and compositions. He would study briefly with the painter Souchon before setting out on his own career.
His early commercial work catered strictly to popular tastes and the young man became financially independent (he would be known for the rest of his life as a generous friend and benefactor, supporting artists and helping them financially whenever possible). When he visited the Barbizon area for the first time however, he found himself inspired by the dramatic contrasts of the light in the dark forests of Fontainebleau, and his paintings captured the strips of sky and dots of sunlight through the branches. He would eventually excel at Barbizon landscapes, though he would be known for a wide range of subject matter.
Later his work would involve figure painting more than landscapes, but the landscapes of the Barbizon region are among his most well known works. Dias would also become frequently noted as a colorist, able to successfully capture the dramatic light of the forest with a palette of warm browns, oranges, gold and silvery tree trunks and branches. He loved to work with a palette knife, applying thick layers of texture and paint to most of his canvases.
Diaz is an artist impossible to assign to a single school, his work was free spirited and instinctual, and the influences of the environment and other painters can be seen in some of his work. His paintings can be found in some of the world's most popular museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Louvre.