Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

(1796 - 1875)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s mother managed a fashionable millinery shop in Paris on the Rue du Bac and, as a result he spent four years at the family home near I’sle-Adam, and until 1807 lived in a pension on the Rue de Vaugirard. He was sent afterwards on scholarship to a school in Rouen, but did not adapt well to his new environment, and in 1812, his parents decided it would be best for him to return to Paris. When he finished his education in the village of Poissy, near Paris, his father insisted that he venture into business, and though he had expressed his desire to become an artist, Corot worked in several cloth merchant shops from 1815 until 1822. In 1822, his parents finally agreed to support him as an artist.

Corot’s first teacher was Achile Etna Michallon (1796-1822), a landscapist who had studied in Rome. The time Corot spent with Michallon was brief, since Michallon died later that same year. His influence, however, was immense, for it was he who suggested to Corot to carefully study out-of-doors. Corot afterwards studied with Jean Victor Bertin (1775-1842), who had also been Michallon’s teacher. In 1817, Corot’s father bought a country home at Ville d’Avray, and the countryside became a tremendous source of inspiration for the young artist. With the financial support of his family, Corot travelled to Italy in 1825. His simple, direct interpretations of what he saw caused a stir among his colleagues, who included Léopold Louis Robert (1794-1835), Jean Victor Schnetz (1787-1870) and Claude-Félix-Théodore Aligny (1798-1871). Corot left Rome in 1826 and travelled throughout much of Italy, returning to France in 1828, where he maintained a rigorous schedule throughout his life. During the winters he worked in his Paris studio, and devoted the summers to travel around France, recording his experiences with nature.

Essentially ignored in the 1830’s, Corot won important patrons and state commissions during the following ten years. In the late 1840’s and early 1850’s, he exhibited regularly and was a member of the Jury in the Salon. His entries for the Salon generally included traditional subject matter such as Biblical and mythological themes, although a few landscape studies were also included.

Following the death of his mother in 1851, Corot accepted an invitation from Henri-Joseph-Constant Dutilleux (1807-1865) to recover from his loss.

He went to Arras and La Rochelle, where he worked constantly. In 1851 and 1855 he travelled to the Limousin, Switzerland and to Holland, attaining considerable recognition during this period.

One of his most important victories was in 1855 when he exhibited six paintings at the Universalle Exhibition. The exhibition was an enormous success and earned Corot his place among the Barbizon painters. The public experienced an increased interest in his works during the late 1850’s, and in 1858, thirty-eight of his works were sold at the Hotel Drôuot for a considerable amount. Corot continued to exhibit at the Paris Salon until the end of his life. He died in Paris on 22nd February 1875, at the age of seventy-eight.

Corot, one of the foremost landscape artists of his time, is at last recognised as one of the greatest painters of nature and of the human form, and one of the most moving recorders of an artist’s intimacy with his work. Corot had the extraordinary skill of being able to delineate not just the contours of objects, but the actual substance and luminosity. He was one of the first painters to love and to paint nature for its own sake, and his landscapes were surprisingly sensitive. He possessed a true quality of vision and expressed a genuine poetic style in his work. Corot’s paintings combined poetry, light and colour to reveal a clear and intense truth. He enlightened the realm of landscape painting with a new naturalism, and a definite romanticism. Corot was a revolutionary artist and a precursor to the art of the new generation.