Paris 1796 – 1875
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was a pivotal figure in the history landscape painting and his vast output reaches back the neo-classical tradition and anticipates the plein air innovations of the Impressionists. He is now best known for his sun-bathed views of Italy, his soulful figure-paintings and his later silvery, atmospheric landscapes. His earlier plein air views, especially of Italy, are what are most admired today.
He was born in Paris to prosperous parents whose support enabled him to fulfill the goal of all French landscape painters: the opportunity to study in Italy, particularly in Rome and the Campagna. He made his first trip to Italy in 1825–28. For Corot, as much as for Claude (1600–82) and Poussin (1594–1665) in the seventeenth century, Rome and its environs provided a fertile ground for artists to recapture the grandeur of the Rome’s past; the area also gave an artist, especially for a landscape painter, the opportunity to take advantage of the clear Roman light, the numerous picturesque settings and to develop his skills in observing and capturing nature. Indeed, for pensionaries at the French Academy in Rome, transferred by Napoleon to the Villa Medici in 1803, plein air sketching in oil was part of the standard artistic curriculum since the late eighteenth century.
Returning from his first trip to Italy, Corot focused on preparing large-scale landscapes for the Salon and traveled through France where he came into contact with members of the Barbizon School, notably Jean-François Millet (1814–75) and Théodore Rousseau (1812–67). However, he never shared their interest in Realism and his real influence remains artists like Claude Lorraine. By 1850, Corot’s reputation was assured; he produced many smaller scale landscapes with a more gestural style anticipating some of the changes that were to come with the advent of Impressionism. His landscapes are increasingly atmospheric, the trees often softly defined with shimmering foliage consisting of suggestive dots and dabs. His canvases often prepared with thin grey grounds contributing to the wispy silver-hued ambiance so characteristic of his later style. Corot’s late landscapes were avidly collected in the United States in the late nineteenth century.
Corot’s figure paintings constitute a smaller and less well-known portion of his oeuvre. Though rarely exhibited during his lifetime his figures were highly important. Corot frequently depicted his models wearing traditional Italianate costumes. He tackled the human form through bold brushwork often balanced by the occasional finely rendered detail. Corot’s figures served as models for later nineteenth and early twentieth-century artists including Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso.
Corot’s sketches were as much admired by his contemporaries as now and never more appreciated than by Monet, who remarked in 1897: “there is only one artist here – Corot. We are nothing to him, nothing.”
Top Auction Results for Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Venise, vue du Quai des Esclavons
Sold for $9,009,844
New York, Christie’s, The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller: 19th and 20th Century Art, Evening Sale, lot 4
Juive d'alger (L'italienne)
Sold for $4,745,000
New York, Sotheby’s, 7 November 2007, Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, lot 20
Sold for 2,866,000
New York, Christie’s, 9 May 2001, Impressionist and Modern Art (Evening Sale), lot 7