French painter. He created a distinctive landscape style using a soft focus and a low-key palette of browns, ochres, and greens. His early work, including Italian scenes of the 1820s, influenced the Barbizon School of painters. Like them, Corot worked outdoors, but he also continued a conventional academic tradition with his romanticized paintings of women.
According to the wishes of his parents, who had a fashionable dress shop in Paris, after education at the college of Rouen he worked until 1822 in a cloth warehouse, but was then given a small allowance to study painting. He spent a few months with the young and short-lived Michallon, who directed him to the study of nature, afterwards working under another painter, Victor Bertin. It is reasonable to suppose that he was impressed by Constable in the Salon of 1824; going to Rome the following year he showed in his first Italian landscapes a response to effects of sun and cloud that seems, as in the Claudian Aqueduct (National Gallery), related to the work of the English master. Their breadth and directness of style marked a new conception of landscape in French art. His first Salon picture, in 1827, was the Vue prise à Narni (National Gallery of Canada), and he returned to France in 1828, painting some of his best pictures in the following six years, and working in Paris and Normandy, at Fontainebleu, Ville d'Avray and elsewhere, the light of Italy giving place to harmonies of silvery grey. His stay at Fontainebleau places him in close relation to the Barbizon School. A second visit to Italy in 1834, and another in 1843 produced further masterly works, such as his Villa d'Este, though it was long before Corot sold a picture or obtained public recognition, despite the admiration of friends. Late in life, however, he enjoyed great success, generously sharing its rewards with such less fortunate artists as Daumier, though the paintings most popular were not always his best.
His work can be conveniently divided into three groups: the paintings and studies made directly from nature, which include landscapes painted in Italy, France, Switzerland and Holland and figures painted either in the open or in the studio; the more academic Salon pictures with some religious, mythological or literary element of subject; thirdly the ‘souvenirs’ of the 1860s and 1870s, quickly executed small landscapes. These, once constituting the most sought-after phase of his art, are now looked on as something of an aberration, though splendid works directly inspired by nature were produced at the same time or later. His figures, for example Interrupted Reading (Chicago Art Institute), showed a master's power, and a late work, such as The Belfry of Douais (1871, Louvre), is of undiminished vigour. A benevolent and illustrious bachelor, ‘le Père Corot’ was a guiding light of 19th-century French landscape, of Boudin, Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and in general of the Impressionists.
Corot, Jean-Baptiste Camille
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