COROT, JEAN-BAPTISTE-CAMILLE (1796–1875), French painter.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was born in Paris and apprenticed to a cloth merchant at age nineteen, in spite of his desire to become an artist. It was not until seven years later that his parents agreed to pay him a small yearly allowance that would enable him to pursue his calling. Opting against an academic training, Corot did not enroll in the École des Beaux-Arts but studied briefly with Achille-Etna Michallon (1796–1822) and upon the latter's death entered the studio of Jean-Victor Bertin (1767–1842), a well-known painter of historical landscapes.
Historical landscape painting (paysage historique) was the most highly rated form of landscape painting in early-nineteenth-century France. It called for landscapes to serve as settings for scenes from history, literature, mythology, or the Bible. It also was the only kind of landscape painting that was encouraged by the Academy, which each year awarded a travel grant to enable a young, aspiring landscape painter to study in Rome. Study in Italy was extremely important for anyone who wanted to become a historical landscape painter, since the Italian scenery, with its mountains, rivers, and Roman ruins, was considered eminently appropriate for paysage historique and for its important subgenre, the paysage classique or classical landscape (historical landscapes with scenes from ancient history and mythology).
Though not a student at the École des Beaux-Arts, Corot followed the academic tradition and left for Italy in 1825. Headquartered in Rome, he traveled around Italy, making plein-air oil sketches of landscape, scenery, and monuments. Such sketches were important to artists, since they served them as aides-mémoire for large landscape compositions, which invariably were done from
memory and imagination inside the studio. Sketching in oils had become a popular practice in the early nineteenth century, after the academic landscape painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750–1819) had promoted it in his Eléméns de perspective pratique à l'usage des artistes (1799–1800). Previously, artists had confined their out-door sketching to pencil and watercolor. The advantage of the oil sketch was that it enabled artists better to retain the immediacy of the sketch in the finished composition.
Corot stayed in Italy for four years, then returned to France and settled in Paris. However, he continued to travel incessantly, both in France and abroad. Corot's first Salon submissions were paintings of Italian scenery but without the obligatory historical characters. He was apparently less interested in receiving academic accolades than in appealing to middle-class collectors who preferred "pure" landscape scenery to the traditional historical landscapes. His View at Narni and The Roman Campagna or La Cervara, exhibited at the Salon of 1827, both presented panoramic views of Italian landscapes with contemporary Italian peasants. Although both landscapes were clearly done in the studio and composed with the help of one or more sketches done outdoors, they are remarkable for the artist's convincing suggestion of light and atmosphere.
In 1835 Corot exhibited his first historical landscape, Hagar in the Desert, which was highly acclaimed and established his reputation. After this, his production alternated between historical landscapes, topographic landscapes (landscapes depicting specific scenery in France or abroad), and idyllic landscapes (imaginary landscapes populated with nymphs, fauns, and other mythical creatures). Corot also developed a class of landscapes all his own, which he called "souvenirs." Paintings such as Souvenir de Mortefontaine (1864) and Souvenir des environs du lac de Nemi (Souvenir of the Lake Nemi region) present existing landscapes in poeticized form, as if seen in one's mind eye or in a dream. In addition to landscapes, after 1865 Corot painted a series of beguiling figure paintings, full-length or half-length views of single women reading, contemplating an art work in a painter's studio, or daydreaming. Their mood of reverie resonates with the dreamlike quality of the souvenirs.
Although Corot often worked in the Fontainebleau Forest, he never became a full-fledged member of the Barbizon school of landscape painting; however, he was acquainted with its most important representatives, Théodore Rousseau (1812–1867) and Jean-François Millet (1814–1875), whose works he did not like. Indeed, he never became part of any group or coterie, although he was supportive of his colleagues, using both his influence and his money to help them. Corot's works, especially his landscape paintings of French sites, which often retain the freshness of the original oil sketch (for example, A Village Near Beauvais, 1850–1855) were an important source of inspiration for the early impressionists, such as Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet, who admired Corot's ability to capture effects of light, weather, and season.
Galassi, Peter. Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical Landscape Tradition. New Haven, Conn., 1991.
Musée du Louvre. Figures de Corot. Paris, June–September 1962.
Robaut, Alfred. L'Oeuvre de Corot: Catalogue raisonnéet illustreé. 4 vols. Paris, 1905; supplements compiled by A. Schoeller and J. Dieterle. 3 vols. Paris, 1948–1974.
Tinterow, Gary, Michael Pantazzi, and Vincent Pomarède. Corot. New York, 1996.