Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot 1796-1875 BACK

French painter of landscape and portraits. Trained-in the classical tradition of French landscape, founded chiefly on Poussin, Corot went to Italy in 1825, and returned there many times. There are three distinct styles in his painting. His early classical landscapes, painted in rich panels of colour, often in the full glare of an Italian noon, influenced Cezanne and other Post-Impressionists in their composition by tonal contrasts instead of strict drawing. In the 2nd style are the soft and silvery woodland scenes painted from the 1850s to his death. Finally he painted a few portraits and studies of women. The last are of a very high quality and have recently won recognition.

An excerpt from Corot by Gary Tinterow
Alfred Robaut assembled valuable information on Corot's technique during this Italian period which also sheds light on the artist's way of working after his return to Paris. Robaut found many drawings that correspond to the painted studies and concluded that Corot used drawings to save time and as an aid to his memory, to facilitate progress on a study which he then finished on the spot in a few sessions. Thus, four stages can be perceived in Corot's study of a site. He began outdoors, blocking in the subject fairly completely, usually in pencil but sometimes in oil; then in the studio, using oils, he repainted from memory, making the drawing and the effects of light and shadow more precise; next he returned to the site to analyze in detail various elements of the landscape; finally he retouched the painting in the studio, sometimes over a period of years, until he considered it perfect: "Nothing should be left imprecise." Of course, these stages were not sharply defined, and the process could take hours, months, or years.

From a consideration of this working method one might reasonably conclude that Corot, overwhelmed by the beauty of Italy, was-perhaps unconsciously painting nature more and more for its own sake, for the pure pleasure of it, forgetting the didactic framework and the connection to his future Salon paintings. However, it would be a mistake to go further and deduce that he consciously regarded his studies as independent works worthy of being exhibited. Even though our contemporary eyes find the youthful Italian studies more moving than the lyrical paintings of the 1860s; even though our modern taste favors an unfinished work that reflects the artist's first response over a finished work, which can be stiff because of social or professional considerations, we still must recognize that the true motivation for Corot's studies was his studio painting, or else we will be false to his pictorial conception.

For Corot, the study was only an artistic potential that preceded and Inevitably led to the studio landscape. When working in the studio he could dispense with the study itself, relying instead on his memory: "'This memory,'he said, 'has served me better at times than nature itself could.... I would base a painting on that study; but, in a pinch, I could do without having it in front of me. When someone requests a copy of one of my subjects, I can make it easily without referring to the original; I keep a copy of all my works in my heart and in my eyes." Italy served to nourish that visual memory; the passion he later developed for making souvenirs had begun to take shape at that time. When he worked in the studio Corot did not systematically use his studies as a source of inspiration for a paysage coniposi, as some have asserted, and he could go directly to the painting without the preliminary stage of making a study from nature. The study from nature thus could become a work in the abstract, with the actual pictorial object obtained after each session of plein air painting mattering less than the memory it implanted in the mind of the landscapist.

Image List
Italian Youth Sitting in Corot's Room in Rome, 1824

Silenus, 1838

The Letter, 1865

Mantes: The Cathedral and the City Seen through the Trees, 1865

Pensive Oriental, 1870

Moonlit Landscape, 1874

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