Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Corot, Jean-Baptiste-Camille

Riverbank at Mery sur Seine, Aube
oil on canvas
46.5 x 62 cm
private Collection

"Corot is not a simple landscapist - he is a painter, a true painter; he is a rare and exceptional genius." (Delacroix)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796  - 1875) was a French landscape painter and printmaker in etching. He was born in Paris and his family were bourgeois people - his father was a cloth merchant and his mother a milliner - and unlike the experience of some of his artistic colleagues, throughout his life he never felt the want of money, as his parents made good investments and ran their businesses well.

After an education at the College de Rouen and two abortive apprenticeships with drapers, he was given the financial freedom at the age of 26 to devote himself to painting. He first studied with the landscape painter. He made trips to Italy that are considered so essential to the formation of a landscape artist, spending time in Rome, the Campagna and Naples. He also travelled extensively in France, to Normandy, Provence, the Morvan region in Burgundy and to north-east France in 1871 during the Commune. He also travelled in Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and England. During these trips he 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.

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. He developed, through painting on the spot, his sensitive treatment of light, form and distance in terms of tonal values rather than by color and drawing. Topographical detail was suppressed in favour of mood and atmosphere. 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 he 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.

“What there is to see in painting, or rather what I am looking for, is the form, the whole, the value of the tones…That is why for me the colour comes after, because I love more than anything else the overall effect, the harmony of the tones, while colour gives you a kind of shock that I don’t like. Perhaps it is the excess of this principal that makes people say I have leaden tones.” (Corot)