French landscape and portrait painter Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was born on July 16, 1796. His wealthy merchant family made it possible for him to travel extensively, particularly to Italy, to paint idyllic landscapes. They had wanted him to enter into the family fabric and fashion business, but he finally convinced his family that this was not the life for him. His parents paid him an annual allowance that permitted him to meet his financial needs until their deaths.
Corot’s art married two principles: application of the ideals of classicism and close observation for nature. He didn’t limit his landscapes to Italy, however. He crisscrossed France memorializing its scenic beauty. Corot’s first contribution to one of the official Salons, however, was a biblical scene. He puzzled the art critics: the classical buildings in his paintings kept him from being considered “modern” and the neoclassical painters were put off by his reverent treatment of trees and rocks. Corot found kindred spirits among three other painters, including Gustave Courbet, with whom he formed a plein air group known as the groupe du Port-Berteau. Their joint exhibit consisted of 170 works produced over a two-year period.
By the end of his life, he was being paid handsomely for his paintings. Corot spread the wealth around, however, donating vast sums to the poor in Paris during the siege during the Franco-Prussian war. He bought a house for a fellow-painter who had become blind and penniless. The artist gave a small fortune to the widow of painter Jean-Francois Millet so she could provide for her large family. He would even sign the paintings of his friends so that they would sell for a higher price, in order to help them out. So if you’re buying a Corot any time soon, make sure it’s really his!
He is sometimes referred to as “the father of impressionism” due to his mastery of the effects of light. The Impressionists paid tribute to him, including Monet who said, “Il y a un seul maître, Corot. Nous ne sommes rien en comparaison, rien” (eel ee ah uhn sul metruh, cohroh. new nuh sum reen ohn kom-pear-ay-sohn, reen), which means, “There is one master, Corot. We are nothing in comparison, nothing.” He was inducted into the Légion d’honneur a few years before he died of stomach cancer on February 22, 1875.
- La vie en pointillé (onequalitythefinest.com)
- Art Review: ‘Unknown Corot: Unpublished Drawings’ at Jill Newhouse (nytimes.com)
- ‘If It Doesn’t Dance, It’s Not Corot’ (artnews.com)
- Vous êtes le maître du ciel (onequalitythefinest.com)