While primarily remembered as a member of the Barbizon School, Diaz established his reputation early on as a figure painter, specializing in scenes depicting fêtes galantes in the popular Rococo revival style as well as Orientalist subjects, which were inspired by Delacroix. Diaz’s paintings of women, which continued to represent a large part of his output throughout his career, influenced the female subjects of Corot, Fantin Latour, Monticelli and Renoir.
Diaz first travelled to Barbizon in 1835 and two years later he met Théodore Rousseau, who would have a major influence on his art for the rest of his career. It was certainly Rousseau, who pointed Diaz in the direction of landscape painting. Diaz’s paintings of Fontainebleau Forest and the surrounding meadows, with their shadowed interiors and sunlit vistas, almost always consist of a rich tapestry woven with a palette of warm browns, rusts and golds, and often include a sliver of silver representing a quiet pool or stream. Diaz earned a reputation as an extraordinary colorist in both his figure paintings and landscape art, and this may be attributed to his early training as a porcelain painter at a china factory in Paris when he was 15 years old.
By all accounts Diaz was a generous man, often lending financial assistance to his fellow Barbizon friends and painters, including Rousseau, Troyon and Millet. He lived a long life and had a very successful career as a painter, having overcome the trauma of the amputation of his left leg due to a snake or insect bite at the age of 13.