In the mid-19th century, the French village of Barbizon was the artistic equivalent of the reality-TV show “Big Brother.” In this tiny village with a population of just 352 (according to the 1872 census), the locals were under constant observation by the 100 or so artists reputedly living among them.

Unlike the painters who followed the academic style that had hitherto dominated French art, these artists paid attention to the minutest details of the rustic scenes and people around them. The resulting works — and with them the story of this closely observed village and the artistic movement associated with it — can be seen in the exhibition now on at the Sompo Japan Museum of Art (formerly the Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art).

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