1796 – 1875
teacher of the Impressionists
Corot, overview of his life and journeys:
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was born 1796/07/16 in Paris, 125, Rue du Bac (note the exact date of his birth is disputed). His father was a cloth merchant, his mother was a millener, they belonged to the lower middle class. In 1817 his parents bought a cottage close to the lakes of Ville-d’Avray. From 1825-28 Corot travelled in Italy, he namely stayed in Rome. From 1829-33 Corot made a tour in France and namely also would paint in Fontainebleau. In 1834 Corot travelled again to Italy. From 1836-42 Corot made several trips in France, namely in the Auvergne, Mantes, Rosny, Morvan (R222,p163). In 1843 Corot travelled again in Italy. From 1844 till his death in 1875 would dwell at several places, namely in Normandy, Britanny, Limousin (1851-55), the north of France, Les Landes and in Fontainebleau. Since 1851 he frequently visited his friend Dutilleux in Arras, whose future son-in-law Alfred Robaut made in 1905 his Catalogue Raisonné (R222,p164;R119). Corot also travelled abroad in Switzerland (1852+53+57+59+63), Belgium and Holland (1854) and England / London (1862). Corot mostly travelled in the summers and would dwell Paris and Ville d’Avray in the winter time (R226,p19). After his father died in 1847 and his mother in 1851 Camille would inherit the cottage in Ville-d’Avray. In Paris he also had a studio at 58, Rue du Paradis and one at the 19bis, Rue Fontaine. Corot died 1875/02/22 in Paris at 56, rue du Faubourg-Poissionnière, 10th arrondissement, where he had an appartment.
Corot never married. In 1826 he wrote ‘All I really want to do in life … is to paint landscapes.’ (R61,p21)
Corot as an artist:
In 1822 Corot was a pupil of Achille-Etna Michallon (1796-1822) and later 3 years of Jean-Victor Bertin (1775-1842). (R61,p12;R290,p135;R226,p18). In the Salon catalogues Corot was called a pupil of Bertin (iR1;R61,p13). Reviewing the Salon of 1845 Baudelaire wrote ‘At the head of the modern school of landscape stands M. Corot’ (R61,p24;R222,p86).
Corot received a maintenance from his parents of 2000 francs a year (or 1500 livres). He sold his first painting just in 1840 (R60,p29) and only in the early 1850s collectors became seriously interested in his work (R61,p24). Since 1855 there had been an enormous demand for his works (R61,p35). In 1858 at Hôtel Drouot 38 paintings were sold for a considerable sum. (R61,p35;R226,p18). Being more wealthy Corot supported (the families of) Daumier, Aligny and Millet (R61,p35).
Corot also made some etchings and glass prints (cliché-verre) (R222,p102).
Corot and the School of Barbizon:
Corot is seen as an important member of the School of Barbizon. Corot made his first paintings outdoors in 1822, namely also in Fontainebleau. (R59,p8; R61,p12+15). After 1830 he would paint here more often, but he never would live here. He would lodge in Chailly, with Père Ganne or with his friend d’Aligny in Marlotte. (R290,p136) He had met d’Aligny during his first trip in Italy / Rome from 1825-28 (R290,p135;R222,p19). In 1855 Corot lodged with Decamps and in 1858 decorated his studio. He would return to these surroundings till shortly before his death. (R290,p136;R222,p164).
There are differences in style between Corot (more harmonizing values) and Rousseau and Huet (more finish and coloristic exaggerations) (R222,p68). Corot was critical on the works of Rousseau and couldn’t appreciate the works of Millet. He admired Courbet. He also admired Daubigny with whom he was befriended since 1852; they travelled together to Geneva / Switzerland in 1852+53; he visited him in Auvers-sur-Oise since 1860 and decorated his house in 1868. (R290,p135;R222,p104+164). Other, younger, Barbizon painters called themselves disciples of Corot, like Chintreuil and Français (R226,p19). At his funeral Dupré was one of the four pall-bearers (R222,p154).
Corot at Ville-d’Avray:
His parents bought a cottage in 1817 in Ville-d’Avray (5, Rue du Lac), which Camille inhereted in 1851, with his sister. He would dwell here alternately till his death. The cottage was located near the banks of Le grand étang, also called étang neuf. In 1849 Corot offered the church Saint-Nicolas-Saint-Marc in Ville-d’Avray his large painting of Saint-Jérôme↓ and later received a commission in 1856.
Corot at the Salon and other exhibititions:
Corot exhibited almost yearly at the Salon from 1827-1875, the year of his death (iR1). In 1848 Corot, Dupré and Rousseau were member of the organisational / selection committee (R290,p49;R222,p164). In the years 1849, 1850/51, 1852, 1864 and 1870 he was part of the jury, in which role he favoured the ‘impressionists’. (R177,p23;R226,p19+164;R61,p35+39+40)
Works of Corot also were exhibited at the Expositions Universelle: in 1855 with 6 paintings; in 1867 with 7 paintings; (posthumously) in 1878 with 10 paintings; in 1889 Corot was extensively honoured with 44 paintings, 8 drawings and with engravings; in 1900 with 24 paintings. (R231)
May 1875 there was posthumously an exhibition at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris showing 228 paintings (R222,p167;M21). In 1895 there was the ‘Exposition de centenaire de Corot’ at the Palais / Musée Galliéra in Paris showing 143 paintings (R222,p167;iR23;M21). In 1909 at the Salon d’Automne there was a small exhibition with 24 works of Corot called ‘Figures de Corot’ (R222,p167).
Corot, an awarded artist:
Corot was a highly awarded artist. Corot received several awards. At the Salon in 1833 a 2nd class medal (Paysage) and in 1848 a 1st class medal.
In 1846 he was appointed Chevalier de Légion d’honneur.
At the Exposition Universelle of 1855 Corot received a 1st class medal.
At the Exposition Universelle of 1867 Corot received a 2nd class medal and later that year would be appointed Officier de Légion d’honneur.
Several works of Corot were bought by the State after the Salon of 1840 +1842 +1848 +1849 +1850/51 +1855 + 1864. He also received some commissions, namely in 1844 (which he exhibited at the Salon of 1847).
Corot was a Classical painter:
Untill 1862 paintings that Corot submitted to the Salon regularly contained historical / mythological / religious themes (iR1;R60,p78;R222,p7). These can be seen as Neo-Classical tendencies. These scenes and also scenes from literature (like MacBeth) express quite a bit of drama (R222,p63). This can be seen as a Romantic tendency. Corot also depicted several nymphs and fauns, but rendered them quite small in a landscape (R60,p74+84;R61,no30;R290,p135;R222,p66). So, in that sense he stays formost a landscapist. Still, these landscapes are composed landscapes (R61,p32). In these Salon paintings Corot also rendered many details (R61,p32). At first in 1849 Corot would exhibit at the Salon a landscape made from direct observation (=CR66↑) (R60,p89;R61,p34;R222,p37).
The larger canvases he would make in his studio (R61,p10). They were mostly composed of parts from studies painted en-plein-air, his memories and imagination and examples of old masters, see for example CR1625↓. (R59,p115; R60,p89+91; R61,p9). Of some succesfull paintings he later made reproductions in his studio (R61,no43;R119,CR1625 → CR1669-72, though another source suggests it were previous studies; R222,p114). Corot would more than once rework a painting several years later (R290,no11+14;R222,p78).
Corot made minimalistic works:
Some works Corot made are quite curious. Mostly it are smaller studies. But they have in common that Corot left out details. The city views / landscapes are (almost) deserted of people and have a peculiar, a bit omnious atmosphere. They look almost precursor of Surrealist paintings. (R61,no7+15;R119,no98bis+321). Another minimalistic work is a figure painting called La Marietta (R61,no25;R119,no458). It looks quite modern and has resemblances with later works of Vallaton.
Corot was a Pre-Impressionist:
Corot painted his smaller, less formal views invariably en-plein-air (R61,p10+15). He started to do so in 1822, inspired by Achille-Etna Michallon his teacher, who was inspired by Valenciennes. (R59,p8; R61,p12-15). In these smaller canvasses he rendered more spontaneously a simplification of forms and used a pasty texture (see CR130↓) (R61,p15;R60,p114;R222,p27). He mixed his paint beforehand and didn’t use tubes that were on the market since the 1830s (R60,p73). Till the 1840s he painted on paper, afterwards on small canvasses (R60,p73). Many of the paintings made during his travels Corot called ‘souvenirs’ (remembrances) (R226,p19;R222,p7).
Corot often depicted the times of day, also in serie (R15,p62;R222,p107)↓. In these paintings he often used clair-obscure. His shadow parts are mostly depicted with dark greys and browns, so no impressionist blues and purples. The 1840s onwards he used many silvery tones, see CR1625↑ and CR1641↓ (R61,26;R14,p71+72). As Corot once said to Pissarro “You see green and I see silver and blond.” (R61,p31). He had the habit to add a little white to all his colours (R222,p68). An important element in his paintings is the rendering of a dreamy, poetic mood and a harmonic integration of man and nature (sometimes with some sentimental tendencies) (R61,p32+no43;R60,p104/5;R290,no15). Corot is called a dreamer (R14,p71). Corot more than once rendered dusky views (R14,p72;R60,p104;R290,no15) and often depicted the evening calm (R222,p101). In his paintings, since 1850, ‘contrasts give place to nuances, form dissolves in a romantic haze, in glimpses of a subjective dreamworld’ (R222,p99). He didn’t only render what he saw, but combined this with his memory and imagination (R14,p72;R222,p100). In his painting he used a certain artistic freedom as the anecdote goes that a spectator who say him painting in the forest of Fontainebleau asked him “But where, monsieur, do you see that splendid tree you’ve put there?” Corot remarked by pointing at an oak tree behind him. (R61,p31).
Corot sometimes used rather bright colours. In 1865 (CR1464↓) in his most impressionistic painting he used purplish shadows and pinkish browns, as he did already in 1826 (R61,p19+no3+37). Still, he often used restricted colours, including many greys, browns and dark greens (R61,p20;R290,no13). Several of his works can be called a ‘symphonie in grey’ (R222,p116). Corot was critised for the lack of variety in his tones (R61,p23). To intensify the blacks he even has recourse to bitumen (R222,p102). In many of his paintings the brushstroke is rather smooth.
Père Corot and the Impressionists:
Corot was admired by several ‘impressionists’. He was called Père Corot (R60,p79;R61,p36). Corot had two accomplished disciples Chintreuil and Lépine (R222,p158). (In the 1860s) Corot would only sell his paintings to a certain dealer, when he also would buy works of Lépine (R61,p35). Corot had many pupils, whom he gave more or less intensively advice, namely to work en-plein-air among them were many ‘impressionists’ (R59,p177-8; R60,p54+66; R61,p29; R222,p158). Corot wrote in his notebook “We must always keep in view the mass, the whole that has caught our eye, and never lose the first impression which quickened our emotion.” (R222,p68).
Corot is called the teacher of Brandon 1865 onwards (iR1;R259;aR7;aR9;iR65;R9), they remained close and corresponded frequently till Corot died in 1875 (iR3;R87;aR7). The first contacts probably were made before 1851 and in company of Léon Fleury (aR6;iR23). Corot wrote Brandon in 1856 to bring back from Italy, women’s costumes from Albano (R88). Brandon made a drawing of Corot painting in the open, which is now in the Louvre (R92,p16)↑. Around 1856 he gave advice to Pissarro, who was called pupil of Corot in the Salon catalogues till 1864 (R60,p66;R61,p35;iR1). Berthe Morisot received teachings from Corot (between 1860-62), painted with him and dwelled some time in Ville-d’Avray (R60,p66;R61,p29;R222,p164). Around 1869 Vignon was a pupil of Corot (aR9;iR69;iR24;iR60;R9;R3;R16;R273;R272,p5+7;R89,p60;aR1;iR3). Some sources state that, the earlier works of Vignon had much resemblance with those of Corot (for example a ‘feathery brushstroke’), but after 1880 this influence disappeared (R273;R89,p60). But, I hardly see any resemblance with Corot in Vignon his works. Still, in 1882 Eugène Manet, the husband of Morisot, accused him of ‘imitations of Corot’ (R89,p60). Only in the 1870 Salon catalogue Latouche is called a pupil of Corot (iR1/n197560). Boudin was inspired by the plein-air painting of Corot, with whom he also was befriended (R3,p649;R161,p18+24;R1,p61). Colin was a friend of Corot, who influenced him very much (iR4;R16). He was called a pupil of Corot in the Salon catalogues of 1857-61 (iR1). Colin, who appreciated Corot, said (in 1909) “What Corot sought to render was not so much Nature herself as the love he bore her.” (R222,p158;R87) Redon had acquaintance with Corot, who taught him: ‘Go to the same place every year, copy the same tree.’ (R1,p101;R3). In his earlier years, Redon made several landscapes also in the manner of Corot (R55). Corot was an informal teacher of Rouart (R45,p9). Rouart also had a large collection of works of Corot (R45; see). Béliard also was influenced by Corot and at the Salon of 1880 called a pupil of him (iR1;R21;R9;aR1;R87). A review of the Salon of 1881 says he is most influenced by Corot and his ‘vocation for the poetry of nature’. (aR6,p132+170) Puvis de Chavannes also was a pupil of Corot.
Many admired Corot. Degas once said: ‘he’s the strongest, he discovered everything’ (R294). Monet said in 1897 at an exhibition “There’s only one artist here who counts, it’s Corot; the rest of us are nothing, absoltely nothing compared with him.” (R222,p158;R290,p135). Also Gauguin, Seurat, Van Gogh, Vuillard and even several Cubists admired him (R222,p158).
Corot had been member of the Paris Salon jury several times↑. Namely in 1865 + 1870 he defended the Impressionists (R61,p39; R59,p177). Corot had some affinity with the idea of independant group exhibitions. He was a member of the Société des Aquafortistes (1862-67) (R290,p197). In 1867 he supported Bazille’s request for an independent exposition. But he never officially supported the 1st exposition of the Société Anonyme des Artistes… (R61,p9).
Corot as a figure painter:
Corot had made several portraits 1826 onwards (R61). Especially the 1850s onwards he made some monumental portraits (R61,p33+no42+48+51;R290,no17+18;R14,p68-70). From 1866-74 he depicted young, women models in a variety of (colourfull) costumes, attitudes and moods (R222,p138). Corot his intention foremost was to evoke a dreamy (even melancholic) mood, through the pensive pose of the model and through the choice of matched, restrained colours (R290,p141;R222,p128). ‘The structure is classical, the spirit is romantic, the artist’s vision realistic, the execution almost impressionist’ (R222,p130). Some were made in a Renaissance tradition (R222,p155).
My sources are namely Schneider (2007=R14,p62-73); Kostenevich (2012=R15,p62-69); Adams (1994=R59); Pamarède (1996=R60); Roberts (1965=R61); Leymarie (1985=R222); Weisberg (1985=R226,p18+19); Sillevis (1985=R290); Matheron (1987=R294); the Salon database (iR1); WikiPedia (iR3); WikiMedia (iR6);
See the collections in the Louvre (=M5=iR357); of drawings and etchings in DAG Louvre (=M5a=iR357); Art Institute Chicago (=M20); Metropolitan (=M23); National Gallery London (=M61);
Many sources refer to the Catalogue Raisonné (=CR) of Alfred Robaut (1904-1906=R119) and to the supplement (=sCR) made by Schoeller & Dieterle (1948=R123).
Additional references (=aRx):
- atelierlog.blogspot.com/corot (serie of photographs of Corot painting outside)
Recommanded citation: “Pre-Impressionism: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875), teacher of the Impressionists. Last modified 2023/11/01. https://www.impressionism.nl/corot-1796-1875/ .”