Paris 1796 - Paris 1875
Biography & List of works
Medium: Oil on canvas
Size: 29 x 45 cm
Signed: Signed COROT 1843 (Painted in 1827-28 and retouched in 1843)
Anon. sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 12 May 1896, no. 32.
Alfred Robault, editor, L’oeuvre de Corot, catalogue raisonné et illustré, Floury, Paris, 1965, volume II, pp. 92, cat. no. 259 (illustrated); this work will appear in the forthcoming supplement to the catalogue raisonné of the works of J.B.C. Corot by Martin Dieterle.
Corot’s later landscapes are among the most sought after and influential paintings of the nineteenth century; but the path he followed to this success was intensely individual. His earlier works, however, particularly those done in Italy, also marked a new departure in French painting – the elevation of the plein-air sketch to the status of finished studio paintings, Born in the late eighteenth century, Corot combined genuine respect for classical landscape principles with a deeply felt personal vision that often gives his work a startling naiveté. His skills with a paint brush were hard won, but his incomparable eye for subtle colour variation seems to have been inborn. Corot is usually associated with the Barbizon school of landscape painters, many of whom were close personal friends, but Corot’s landscapes themselves often have more in common with the seventeenth-century paintings of Poussin or the turn-of-the twentieth-century compositions of Cézanne.
Corot was born in Paris to parents who were successful milliners on the Rue du Bac. As a child he was raised by a nursemaid in L’Isle-Adam north of Paris (an area to which he would return to paint later). In 1815, Corot was apprenticed to a cloth merchant and only in 1822 when he was 26 did his parents agree to support his interest in a painting career. He entered the studio of Michallon (1) a painter his own age who had won the first Prix de Rome for landscape painting in 1817. Corot worked at Saint-Cloud outside Paris, a common destination for young landscapists, and in the Forest of Fontainebleau, then a less obvious choice. On Michallon’s death Corot moved to the studio of Jean-Victor Bertin (2), a much older, more conservative landscape artist. In 1825 he travelled to Italy; among his first paintings in Rome was a picture of the roofs outside his window in emulation of Valenciennes (3). During 1826-28, he travelled widely in the Roman campagna making drawings and plein-air oil sketches. He sent two paintings back to the Salon of 1827. In 1829, Corot painted in the Forest of Fontainebleau and also produced portraits of friends. He travelled widely in France during the 1830s and returned to Italy in 1834 for the summer.
Corot was probably the most peripatetic landscape painter of any age, travelling regularly between his favourite sites like Ville d’Avray or the Morvan and more distant regions such as La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast or Switzerland. At the Salon of 1835, he exhibited Hagar in the Wilderness (New York, Metropolitan Museum), a highly original historical landscape of great ambition. Corot spent the summer of 1840 in the Morvan; he made a third trip to Italy in 1843. By 1844 he was a friend of Théodore Rousseau. In 1845 the city of Paris commissioned Corot to paint an altarpiece for a Parisian church. During the short-lived liberalisation of the Salon under the Republic, Corot was elected to the Salon Jury in 1848 and 1849. He was awarded a second-class medal in 1848. Around 1850, he established a friendship with Millet. At the 1850-51 Salon Une Matinée (Dance of the Nymphs) was purchased by the state and shown at the Musée du Luxembourg (now Paris, Musée d’Orsay). In 1854 Corot was in Auvers with Daubigny, a friend of some years; he also travelled in Holland and Belgium. Six of his paintings were exhibited at the Exposition Universelle of 1855 and won a first-class medal. He continued making figure paintings and his first etchings during the late 1850s. While working at Saintonge in 1862 he met Courbet and in 1864, Souvenir of Mortefontaine (Paris, Musée du Louvre) was purchased by the Emperor and widely reproduced during the following decade thus establishing Corot’s fame with a broad audience.
In 1866 and 1867, several Corot paintings were shown in New York and Boston by the French dealer Cadart. Seven paintings and a second-class medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 clearly established Corot’s importance in the much-heralded triumph of French landscape painting. His paintings were shown by Durand-Ruel in London and in numerous exhibitions in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere. Corot died in February, 1875. A significant retrospective exhibition was held at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in May of the same year.
From his arrival in 1826 until he left in 1828, Corot traveled widely in the Roman campagna making drawings and plein-air oil sketches. Little is known of his precise itineraries, although the lack of any record in much of 1827-28 from his fellow artists living there would suggest he had traveled beyond Rome for an extended period. ‘The warmth of the (Roman) climate (…. which) endows all the vegetation with a character of vigor that one does not find in Northern countries; the earth has a warmer color, the rocks stand out forcefully, the greens there are darker and more varied, the skies bluer and the clouds more colorful’ as Valenciennes wrote (4) immediately appealed to the young Corot. Indeed, these qualities found an immediate echo in the views and studies he produced during his Italian sojourn. Corot wrote home of being awoken every morning ‘by a blaze of sunlight that strikes the wall of my room. In short the weather is always beautiful. On the other hand, I find this brilliant sunlight dispiriting. I feel the complete impotence of my palette’.(5)
This small view was probably painted on the occasion of an outing in the vicinity of Narni, or possibly Orte, where Corot painted several views at this time. It was on these journeys into the Campagna that the artist evolved one of his most important contributions to the technique of landscape painting, by avoiding a detailed examination and instead presenting the foreground through painted analysis of the light and color values. The artist understood that an observer of a distant view did not see what was actually at his feet, as the young Théodore Rousseau observed in 1830. This is particularly evident here, with the sketchy foreground contrasting with the more carefully articulated distant view across the river curling towards a distant hill-top village. The painting was almost certainly one of the several oil sketches made on canvas at this time, but unlike those which remained in his studio (and were subsequently included in the studio Vente), he came back to this work at the time of his third Roman trip, in order to complete the painting for the market. A technical examination of the work suggests that the artist completed the tree on the right-side of the copse at left, and also worked-up the sky to its present, more finished appearance.
(1) See no. 12 in the catalogue.
(2) See no. 10 in the catalogue.
(3) See no. 4 in the catalogue.
(4) Valenciennes in Galassi, Op. cit., p.90.
(5) Letter dated March 1826 in Moreau-Nélaton, Corot raconté par lui même, Galassi, Op. cit., p. 134.