Saturday, 4 October 2014


“Beauty in art is truth bathed in an impression received from nature. I am struck upon seeing a certain place. While I strive for conscientious imitation, I yet never for an instant lose the emotion that has taken hold of me.” - Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

For Art Sunday today, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796–1875) who was an influential 19th century French painter best known for his landscape paintings. His artistic style inspired many Impressionists. Born in Paris, France Camille Corot’s prosperous family allowed him the means to pursue his passion for painting without having to worry about earning a living. Though it took some time before Corot was a success, by the 1850s his work was extremely popular. Corot painted more than 3,000 pictures during his career. He died in Paris in 1875.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was born into a well-to-do family on July 16 (some sources say July 17), 1796, in Paris, France. His Swiss-born mother ran a fashionable milliner’s shop and his father worked as a draper, or textile merchant. Corot tried to apprentice as a draper, but failed in the endeavour. By the time he was 26, his parents had given him an allowance that would permit him to pursue his passion for painting. Corot first had lessons with Achille-Etna Michallon, then became a student of Jean-Victor Bertin. Both Michallon and Bertin had studied with landscape painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, and Corot began to paint landscapes as well.

From 1825 to 1828, Corot lived in Italy and honed his artistic skills. These influential years saw him painting the city of Rome and its countryside, as well as Naples and Ischia. It was a happy time for Corot, during which he declared to a friend, “All I really want to do in life ... is to paint landscapes. This firm resolve will stop me forming any serious attachments. That is to say, I shall not get married”.

In 1827, Camille Corot's “The Bridge at Narni” was displayed at the Paris Salon the most prestigious art exhibition of the time. Corot continued to send paintings to the Salon and was awarded a Salon medal at the age of 37. He became a regular exhibitor in the 1830s, with paintings such as “Hagar in the Wilderness” (Salon of 1835). Corot returned to Italy in 1834, where he sketched and painted places such as Florence, Pisa, Genoa and Venice. He would continue to travel throughout his life, visiting Avignon and the south of France as well as Switzerland and other European locations.

On trips abroad and while in France, Corot worked outdoors during the warmer months, trying to capture views and landscapes. These sketches were not meant to be displayed or sold (the larger pictures Corot intended to exhibit and sell were produced inside his studio). Though he received some critical praise, only a few of Corot’s paintings sold in the 1830s. In 1840, the state purchased one of his works, “The Little Shepherd”. Corot’s artistic achievements were further acknowledged in 1846 when he was made a member of the Legion of Honour (an order of merit that was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802).

In the 1850s, Corot began to paint in a softer style, using a restricted palette of colours. Collectors and dealers were scrambling to buy his work as the 1850s progressed. Six of his pieces were seen at the Exposition Universelle of 1855, where Corot won a gold medal and sold a painting to Emperor Napoleon III. Corot also created paintings that focused more on emotion and atmosphere. He described them as “souvenirs”, as they were based on memories of places he had visited.

Corot was in close contact with and influenced by painters of the realistic Barbizon school, such as Jean-François Millet, Théodore Rousseau and Charles-François Daubigny. Corot’s landscapes and plein air sketches also served to inspire Impressionist painters. Corot even taught some Impressionists, such as Camille Pissaro. Devoted to painting, Corot continued to work throughout his life, producing more than 3,000 pictures during his career. In the 1860s, he also experimented with photography and printmaking, and used a technique called cliché-verre to combine the two. Corot died in Paris on February 22, 1875, at the age of 78.

His “Les Trois Arbres en vue de lac” (Three Trees with a View of the Lake) is in a private collection. It is a 45 x 64 cm oil on canvas work from ca 1865/70. It is typical of his later work, drawing on a limited colour palette and having a strongly contrasted, bold composition, almost impressionistic in scope. The appearance of the tree boughs blown by gusts of the wind is counterbalanced by the small figures on the right, with their windswept garments. This is a satisfying and painterly work that shows Corot’s experience and talent well.

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