The Landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

  • June 13, 2017 10:55

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With its luminous palette and feathery brushstrokes, "Le Gué aux Cinq Vaches" is exemplary of Corot's mature style. Oil on canvas. Signed "Corot", circa 1865
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot is regarded by many as the most important landscape artist of the 19th century. Though he identified primarily with the Barbizon artists that painted in the Forest of Fontainebleau, Corot proved to be a bridge between the academic and the avant-garde, with his canvases showing the earliest hints of the techniques and ideals that led to the formation of Impressionism.

Corot took up painting in adolescence, executing his first landscapes inspired by casual nature walks in his late teens. Between 1821 and 1822, the burgeoning artist devoted himself to oil painting and created his first landscapes in Fontainebleau. It would be here that Corot would gain great appreciation and understanding for painting outdoors, or “en plein air”, taking his inspiration directly from nature. Later in life, he stated of the experience, "I made my first landscape from nature...under the eye of this painter [Achille Etna Michallon], whose only advice was to render with the greatest scrupulousness everything I saw before me. The lesson worked; since then I have always treasured precision."

Entitled "Le Passeur, this work is a prime example of Corot's mastery over atmosphere. His use of the plein air technique allowed him to capture nature unlike any other artist of his age. Oil on canvas. Signed "Corot".
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

This “truth to nature” would prove to be the most pivotal tenet of the Impressionists, who developed the technique of plein air painting into the single most important artistic breakthrough of the 19th century. In a poetic ode to the French countryside entitled Le Gué aux Cinq Vaches (The Ford with Five Cows), Corot presents an exemplary plein air masterpiece executed with exacting, yet soft brushwork that captures the light and atmosphere of the scene in all its glory–something possible only through direct observation. His use of a bright, lustrous sky dotted with thin clouds juxtaposed against the diminutive cows and herder speaks of the boundless freedom and serenity of the great outdoors and man’s place in nature.

These themes are further illustrated in Le Passeur (The Ferryman), a work whose contrast between light and darkness lend it a seemingly limitless depth. His mastery of atmosphere is alive in this canvas. The stillness of the mirror-like water combined with the distant clouds and expansive tree at the center that glow from the sun infuse this breathtaking painting with a tranquil, almost ethereal quality that is the hallmark of Corot’s paintings.

Teetering between the traditional and the modern, the earliest echoes of Impressionism can be clearly identified in Corot’s exceptional oeuvre. His work motivated an entire generation of artists to push the limits in their exploration of art and nature, establishing an indelible legacy that continues to fascinate and inspire.

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About M.S. Rau Antiques:
M.S. Rau Antiques has spent over 100 years earning the trust of discerning collectors world-wide. Located in the heart of New Orleans’ historic French Quarter, our peerless showroom houses one of the world’s most extensive and stunning collections of important fine art by artists such as Monet and van Gogh, rare 18th- and 19th-century antiques and breathtaking jewelry, including rare colored diamonds.

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