Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Self-Portrait, c. 1825
Paper mounted on canvas
Musue du Louvre, Paris
From Web Gallery of Art

Writing in La Nouvelle Revue in 1895 at the centennial of the birth of one of the most celebrated landscape artists of the nineteenth century, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Georges LeComte proclaimed that "Corot is the greatest painter of the century. Beautiful painter, yes, always interesting, but especially during our century in which painting, so preoccupied with literature and philosophy, has unfortunate tendencies to neglect the plastic qualities. Corot has them all, marvelously: the logic and the sureness of composition, the expressive simplicity of drawing, the fairness of values, the harmonious sobriety of color, and a freshness of vision."
Written over one hundred years ago, the public still shares LeComte’s expression and regard for Corot, who was compared to the celebrated 17th century French writer, Jean de la Fontaine, and referred to as the “La Fontaine” of landscape painting.
His friends extolled him as being continually in good spirits and charming. He always had a smile on his face. His parents, his mother of Swiss origin and his father from Burgundy, ran a successful fashion shop on the Rue du Bac in Paris. His father hoped Corot would follow in his footsteps and maintain the family shop, but during his secondary school studies in Rouen, which began at the age of 11, it became clear that Corot had a talent for drawing. Just five years after entering school in Rouen, Corot left and went to Poissy where he studied for another two years. Corot returned to Paris and in 1815 was placed as an apprentice draper, later moving on to work with another merchant. His fortuitous encounter, during this period, with a Bonington river landscape was inspirational (as noted by Patrick Noon in Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism, Tate Publishing, 2003):
"No one thought of landscape painting in those days…the artist had captured for the first time the effects that had always touched me when I discovered them in nature and that were rarely painted. I was astonished. His small picture was for me a revelation. I discerned its sincerity and from that day I was firm in my resolution to become a painter."
(Rehs Galleries, Inc.)

Self Portrait, 1840
Galerie des Offices, Florence

The Barbizon school (1830–1870) of painters is named after the village of Barbizon near Fontainebleau Forest, France, where the artists gathered. The Barbizon painters were part of a movement towards realism in art which arose in the context of the dominant Romantic Movement of the time. In 1824 the Salon de Paris exhibited works of John Constable. His rural scenes influenced some of the younger artists of the time, moving them to abandon formalism and to draw inspiration directly from nature. Natural scenes became the subjects of their paintings rather than mere backdrops to dramatic events. During the Revolutions of 1848 artists gathered at Barbizon to follow Constable's ideas, making nature the subject of their paintings. One of them, Jean-François Millet, extended the idea from landscape to figures — peasant figures, scenes of peasant life, and work in the fields. In The Gleaners (1857), Millet portrays three peasant women working at the harvest. There is no drama and no story told, merely three peasant women in a field. The leaders of the Barbizon school were Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau, Jean-François Millet and Charles-François Daubigny; other members included Jules Dupré, Narcisse Virgilio Diaz, Charles Olivier de Penne, Henri Harpignies, Gabriel Hippolyte LeBas (1812-1880), Albert Charpin, Félix Ziem, François-Louis Français and Alexandre DeFaux.
(Allpaintings Art Portal)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
Portrait by Nadar at Wikimedia
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was born in 1796 in Paris, France . He entered the studio of Michallon 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, a much older, more conservative landscape artist.
(1st Art Club)
At the age of 26 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot abandoned a commercial career for art, and from the first showed a strong vocation for landscape painting. He lived in Paris, but travelled about France making sketches from nature and from these he composed in his studio. In addition to his journeys in France, he visited England, the Low Countries, Switzerland, and Italy three times (1825-28, 1834, and 1843). Throughout his life Corot found congenial the advice given to him by his teacher Achille-Etna Michallon `to reproduce as scrupulously as possible what I saw in front of me'. On the other hand he never felt entirely at home with the ideals of the Barbizon School, the members of which saw Romantic idealization of the countrysite as a form of escapism from urban banality, and he remained more faithful to the French Classical tradition than to the English or Dutch schools. Yet although he continued to make studied compositions after his sketches done direct from nature, he brought a new and personal poetry in the Classical tradition of composed landscape and an unaffected naturalness which had hitherto been foreign to it. Through he represented nature realistically, he did not idealize the peasant or the labors of agriculture in the manner of Millet and Courbet, and was uninvolved in ideological controversy.
From 1827 Corot exhibited regularly at the Salon, but his greatest success there came with a rather different type of picture -- more traditionally Romantic in its evocation of an Arcadian past, and painted in a misty soft-edged style that contrasts sharply with the luminous clarity of his more topographical work.
Late in his career Corot also turned to figure painting and it is only fairly recently that this aspect of his work has emerged from neglect -- his female nudes are often of high quality. It was, however, his directness of vision that was generally admired by the major landscape painters of the latter half of the century and influenced nearly all of them at some stage in their careers. His popularity was (and is) such that he is said to be the most forged of all painters (this in addition to an already prolific output).
In his lifetime he was held in great esteem as a man as well as an artist, for he had a noble and generous nature; he supported Millet's widow, for example, and gave a cottage to the blind and impoverished Daumier.
(Nicolas Pioch at WebMuseum)

Arches of the Basilica of Constantine
Oil on paper laid down on canvas, 1825
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

Basilica of Constantine
Oil on canvas, 1826-1828
Public collection
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

The soaring structure of the Basilica of Constantine (Basilica Nova or Basilica Maxentius), above) was begun by Maxentius in AD 306 and completed by Constantine sometime after AD 313. Much like the great imperial baths, the basilica consisted of a central nave spanned by cross vaults with the side aisles divided by wide arches supported on massive piers. It was in the semicircular apse at the west end of the nave that fragments of the colossal statue of Constantine were found. One of the great architectural achievements of classical antiquity, only the north aisle of the basilica probably survived an earthquake in AD 847.
(Senex Magister at

View from the Farnese Gardens, Rome
Oil on canvas, 1826
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
From The Artchive

View from the Farnese Gardens (above) combines a panoramic view of Rome with the more intimate, shaded space of a walled garden in the foreground. Corot skillfully conveyed the fresh quality of morning light, imparting definition to the buildings through strongly contrasted areas of sun and shade. In the foreground, two trees frame the scene. Their vertical shapes are repeated in the distant cypress trees and in the shuttered windows of the city. The horizontal wall and the mountains balance the verticals, demonstrating Corot's exquisite sense of classical design.
(Senex Magister at

Rome - View from the Farnese Gardens, Noon
Oil on paper laid down on canvas, 1826
Musée du Louvre, Paris
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

It was not only Italian architecture and light which captured Corot's attention. The late-blooming Corot was entranced with Italian females as well, "They still have the most beautiful women in the world that I have met their eyes, their shoulders, their hands, and their asses are spectacular. In that, they surpass our women, but on the other hand, they are not their equals in grace and kindness. Myself, as a painter I prefer the Italian woman, but I lean toward the French woman when it comes to emotion." In spite of his strong attraction to women, he writes of his commitment to painting, "I have only one goal in life that I want to pursue faithfully: to make landscapes. This firm resolution keeps me from a serious attachment. That is to say, in marriage but my independent nature and my great need for serious study make me take the matter lightly."
(Senex Magister at

The Bridge at Narni, 1826
Oil on paper mounted on canvas
Location Musée du Louvre, Paris
From Wikipedia

The Bridge at Narni, in French: Le pont de Narni, (above), is currently on display at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. The painting is a product of one of Corot's youthful sojourns in Italy, and, in Kenneth Clark's words, "as free as the most vigorous Constable". It was painted in September of 1826, and was the basis for the larger and more finished View at Narni, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1827, and is now in the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
The view was not a novel one: in 1821 Corot's teacher, Achille-Etna Michallon had drawn the same scene, as had Corot's friend Ernst Fries in 1826. Corot's study is a reconciliation of traditional and plein air painting objectives:
So deeply did Corot admire Claude and Poussin, so fully did he understand their work, that from the outset he viewed nature in their terms....In less than a year (since his arrival in Rome) he had realized his goal of closing the gap between the empirical freshness of outdoor painting and the organizing principles of classical landscape composition.
(Galassi, Peter, Corot in Italy, page 168-70. Yale University Press, 1991)

Rome - Castle Sant'Angelo
Oil on canvas, c.1826-1827
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

The Castle Sant' Angelo (above) was originally a round tomb built on the Tiber River to hold the remains of the Emperor Hadrian. The Hadrianeum or Hadrian's Mausoleum was begun by Hadrian in 130 AD and finished in 139, a year after his death. During the middle ages, Hadrian's tomb was converted into a castle to defend Rome. It was linked to the Vatican by an underground passage. Many Popes lived in this castle.
(Senex Magister at
Since the 1980s, when Peter Galassi directed attention to the outdoor painting of Corot's near contemporaries Michallon, Bertin, Granet, and Caruelle d'Aligny, art historians have linked Corot to the generation of painters who preceded him as opposed to those who followed him. As those and other painters in Corot's Italian circle became better known, Corot was more and more seen as the obedient disciple of Pierre-Henri Valenciennes, the codifier of Neoclassical landscape painting; as the last in a line of painters continuing to work an aesthetic forged in the eighteenth century.
Yet while both views contain much truth, neither characterization of Corot - as the last Neoclassicist or as the first Impressionist - is sufficient to encompass the totality of his achievement. For example, neither explanation satisfactorily accommodates the extraordinary history paintings, among them Hagar in the Wilderness, Diana Surprised in Her Bath, Democritus and the Abderites, Homer and the Shepherds, that actually made Corot's reputation in the 1840s: the kind of painting that prompted Baudelaire to write, "at the head of the modern school of landscape stands M. Corot." These are the works that continue to disturb modern critics.
(The Artchive)

View of Genoa from the Promenade of Acqua Sola
Oil on canvas, 1834
The Art Institute of Chicago
From The Artchive

Peasants Under the Trees at Dawn, Morvan
Oil on canvas, c. 1840-45
National Gallery, London
From The Artchive

The Goat-Herd of Genzano
Oil on canvas, 1843
The Phillips Collection, Washington
From The Artchive

Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld
Oil on canvas, 1861
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
From The Artchive

Corot also travelled extensively in France, to Normandy, Provence, the Morvan region in Burgundy, to which he returned for many years, and to north-east France in 1871 during the Commune. In 1854 he travelled in Holland and Belgium; he regularly visited Switzerland, and in 1862 he was in London.
During these trips Corot painted in the open air and filled numerous notebooks with drawings. His early oil sketches, such as those painted in Italy, were clearly defined and fresh, using bright colours in fluid strokes. During the winter months he worked in the studio on ambitious mythological and religious landscapes destined for the salon. Hagar in the Wilderness (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), exhibited at the salon of 1835, is characteristic of his early work, and, like his open-air studies, features the clear-cut forms and colours of academic painting.
(The National Gallery)

Hagar in the Wilderness
Oil on canvas, 1835
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Manhattan
This image is courtesy of the Art Renewal Center

His reputation was established by the 1850s, which was also the period when his style became softer and his colours more restricted. In his late studio landscapes, which were often peopled with bathers, bacchantes and allegorical figures, he employed a small range of colours, often using soft coloured greys and blue-greens, with spots of colour confined to the clothing of the figures.
Topographical detail was suppressed in favour of mood and atmosphere, above all in his ‘souvenirs’, which were based on memories of real landscapes. The popularity of these combined with Corot’s encouragement of younger artists to copy his pictures (which he then signed), either as a learning exercise or for producing works for sale, resulted in numerous forgeries and imitations, as well as difficulties of attribution.
At the Exposition Universelle of 1855 Corot showed six paintings and won a gold medal. His influence on later 19th-century landscape painting, including the Impressionists, was immense, particularly in his portrayal of light on the landscape. For a long time, however, especially among collectors, the popularity of his late work overshadowed appreciation of his early studies.
(The National Gallery)

Recollection of Mortefontaine
Souvenir de Mortefontaine
Oil-on-canvas, 1864
Location Louvre
From The Artchive

Souvenir de Mortefontaine or Recollection of Mortefontaine (above) is a scene of tranquillity: a woman and children quietly enjoying themselves by a glass-flat, tree-flanked lake.
Generally acknowledged as one of his masterpieces, it is among the most successful of Corot's later, more poetic works. The painting captures an idealized scene while still drawing from the real world. Corot's early painting showed Realist leanings, but as his career progressed he began to combine more Romantic elements, and his works are often viewed as a bridge between Realism and the evolving Impressionist movement. Souvenir de Mortefontaine verges on the Impressionistic, with the lake and landscape captured by broad rather than detailed strokes and Corot's careful attention to the play of light within the scene, though the brushwork is precise and the painting has a more muted palette than the bright colours favoured by the Impressionists. The indistinct features are reminiscent of the blurry details of early landscape photography; Corot had a large collection of these photographs and may have been attempting to recreate the effect in paint.
Mortefontaine is a small village in the Oise département in northern France. Corot made frequent visits to the area in the 1850s to study the effects of light and reflection on water. In Souvenir de Mortefontaine Corot was not producing a scene from life, but (as the title suggests) his recollections of his visits and the play of light on the ponds in the village. Corot produced a second similar painting, The Boatman of Mortefortaine (1865–70), which shows the same lake and trees from the same perspective. Changes in the features of the landscape in The Boatman from those depicted in Souvenir hint at the paintings being generalised impressions rather than details captured from life.
(From Wikipedia)

The Boatman of Mortefontaine
Oil on canvas, c. 1865-70
Frick Collection, New York
From The Artchive

Woman Reading in a Landscape
Oil on canvas, 1869
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
From The Artchive

The Sin-le-Noble Road near Douai
Oil on canvas, 1873
Musée du Louvre, Paris
From The Artchive

Lady in Blue
La femme en bleu
Oil on canvas, 1874
Musée du Louvre, Paris
From The Artchive

"Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot is the rare and exceptional genius and the father of modern landscape painting," noted Delacroix noted in 1861. "He is still the strongest, he has anticipated everything," Degas affirmed some 20 years later. "There is only one master here…Compared to him, the rest of us are nothing, absolutely nothing." (Monet, 1897) The object of all this adulation is Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and at least a couple twentieth-century artists seemed to have agreed: Picasso actually owned several of his paintings, and in 1912 Matisse listed his favorite masters as Goya, Dürer, Rembrandt, Manet, and yes, Corot.
Surprised? Corot obviously supplied these painters with what they asked of art, but his star has sunk considerably since--"The official Corot is generally a bore." (Robert Hughes, 1996) Corot's low-key paintings, with their traditional subjects, their unflashy brushwork and subtle colors, won't grab those looking for demonstrative technique or psychological undercurrents. Unlike Manet or Courbet, his images never hint at subverting an existing order-Rule No. 1, of course, for any relevant art. And in regards to Rule No. 2, Corot's work illuminates absolutely nothing about the connection between artist and audience, unless you find the escapist fantasy of feathery trees and mist-drenched lakes to be a kind of social commentary.
Matisse and Degas knew of what they spoke, however. Corot's virtues are formidable, though they assume a kind of communication between painter and viewer instead of explicating it. Like Courbet, Rembrandt and other masters, Corot was supremely conscious of the geometric relationships of forms and colors, and for the receptive viewer his paintings communicate a remarkable vitality of gesture and scale, whether the subject be trees, figures, panoramas, or interiors. While not subversive, Corot's work is certainly innovative. Unlike Claude Lorrain's logical spatial recessions, his energized space is full of the contradictions of observed light; he "subverted" traditional notions of space by coaxing a purely empirical experience of nature, somehow untrammeled, through a classical discipline of forms and intervals. His quiet paintings are indeed the most powerful connection between neo-Classicism and Impressionism. And you'll notice that Matisse's list includes no painters from either of these schools.
Corot was twice awarded a first place medal at the Salons and also received many honorary titles: Décoration des Fonts Baptismaux de Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet (1846), Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (1846) promoted to officer (1867), and Salon jury member (1848-49). But these honors bestowed upon him held little in personal value in comparison to the gold medal, in the name of French artists, presented to him in 1874 by his friends, as a supreme and fitting homage to his lifetime of working toward lifting landscape painting to the highest rank of creativity in the hierarchy of painting categories.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot died February 23, 1875 in Ville d’Avray, continuing work on other pieces until the end. The Salon of 1875 was the last time Corot exhibited his works, albeit posthumously, showing Souvenir du Lac Nemi and Danse Antique.
Corot’s work can now be found in many museums around the world, including the following renowned museums:
Art Institute of Chicago
Hermitage Museum
J. Paul Getty Museum
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
National Gallery, London
(Rehs Galleries, Inc.)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot Biography
1796 Born: July 16th, France
1815 Began attending classes that the Atelier Suisse
1822 Joined the studio of Achille-Etna Michallon; then took lessons from Jean-Victor Bertin
1827 Paints for Paris Salon
1833 Won a medal at the Salon
1847 Awarded the Légion d'Honneur
1870 Corot elected as a member of the Salon Jury
1875 Died: February 22nd, Ville-d'Array
(The art world online)


Gustavo Saba said...

excelent blog!


Dear Gustavo Saba,
Thanks for the encouraging words.