Henri Rouart was the son of a wealthy manufacturer of military uniforms, and was a fellow pupil at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand of Degas, among others, with whom he remained a lifelong friend and who painted several portraits of him and his family. Rouart owned some major works by Degas, and by Corot, with whom he studied as a kind of unofficial student, as also with Millet. He exhibited at the Salons of 1868, 1869, 1870 and 1872, declaring himself a pupil of Levert, Veron and Brandon. In 1873 he co-founded with Degas the Society of Artist-Painters, sculptors engravers and lithographers, whose first exhibition – the so- called Impressionist show – took place at Nadar’s studio in 1874. Lisière des bois can be seen photographed in Rouart’s studio on the rue de Lisbonne near Renoir’s L’Allée cavalière au bois de Boulogne (today in the Kunsthalle, Hambourg) and Degas’s Sur la Plage (London, National Gallery).
Ernest Brandon (one of Rouart’s teachers), exhibited at this first show, along with among others Rouart himself (who showed six oil paintings), and of course Boudin, Degas, Cezanne, Guillaumin, Lepine, Monet, Morisot, De Nittis, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley. In the second show, of 1876, to which Caillebotte contributed for the first time (the famous painting of men scouring the floor), as did Millet (while Boudin dropped out), with Degas including several works including the Cotton House in New Orleans. Rouart contributed seven more oils to this show and five to the third show, of 1877 – this show included the famous Caillebotte of the Rainy Day on a Paris Street now in Chicago and the Pont de l’Europe, with several Cézanne and some wonderful Degas ballet paintings as well as one of his famous portraits of Rouart himself. Monet included the Arrival at the Gare Saint Lazare, also in Chicago, and the Interior of the Gare Saint-Lazare, in the Musée d’Orsay, among other works, Renoir the Balançcoire and the Moulin de la Galette. In 1879 Rouart contributed just two oils, while Degas showed twenty-four paintings and Pissarro thirty-eight. He continued to exhibit in the 1880 show (four oils and a number of watercolours) – his wonderful view of Melun, now in the Musée d’Orsay, was included there, although the critics did not consider it particularly revolutionary and asked why he had not sent it to the Salon. In 1881 he sent fifteen paintings, but Caillebotte, Monet, Renoir and Sisley did not exhibit that year while Rouart did not show in 1882 (in solidarity with Degas). He returned to the last of these shows in 1886 with three oils and thirteen watercolours (this was the first show to which Redon, Seurat and Signac contributed). It was at this show that he exhibited Lisière des bois.
Rouart was not only a major collector of the works of his friends and contemporaries, but also of old masters and in his sale following his death in 1912, there were seventy-seven old masters included among the two hundred and eighty-five lots of his first sale (the highest price was paid for Degas’ Dancers at the Bar, that made 435,000 francs to Mrs Louisine Havemeyer, with many other Degas oils and pastels; in the second sale of 1913 there were more than two hundred paintings), among which were works by Chardin, Hubert Robert, El Greco, and Goya, as well as his modern paintings by Corot, Millet, Delacroix, Puvis de Chavannes, Courbet, Daumier, and Renoir. He married Hélène Jacob-Desmalter, grand daughter of the famous ébéniste. One of their sons, Ernest, married Julie Manet, daughter of Berthe Morisot by Manet’s brother Eugène.
This painting’s palette and technique is quite typical, but the unclothed figures are a rarity – he customarily painted from nature, traveling across France; mainly landscapes but quite a few Bazille like figure paintings.