Saturday, September 18, 2010


Illustrations from

Above is the sort of painting by Corot that we all recognize. The blurred romantic and highly stylized landscape of a sunlit Arcadian paradise.These scenes were a great influence on American painting from Inness to the tonalists. But these are the work of Corot after the age of fifty. Before these, Corot was a very different painter who worked in a tighter and more classical style. Tonight I will show you some of those. Many of them are of Italy and most of these are from the 1820's.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was born to a middle class family in Paris in 1796. He was apprenticed to a draper and disliked it intensely. In his early twenties his family allowed him to study painting, and gave him a stipend with which to do that. He was able to afford the rent on a studio and studied with Jean-Victor Bertin who was a neoclassical landscape painter.

In 1825 Corot studied in Italy producing over 150 paintings. He did hundreds of drawings on location there also.

Upon Corots return to France he began working on pictures to submit to the Salon. In those days a painter who was shown at the Salon became a recognized artist and without that approval it was hard to make a living. The view above, "The Bridge at Narni" (1826) was made from from studies done on location, however Corot has extensively reworked the actual scene into a classical design.

The trees in this piece of Rome give a little preview of the sort of art he was to make later. The simplifications he is using in the grass at the left and in the wall across the middle ground, foreshadow the handling that later characterized the French Impressionists to whom he would become a hero.

Here is Haggar in the wilderness, The story of Hagar is from Genesis, Sarah, the wife of Abraham gave him a servant girl, Hagar to bear him a son as Sarah was barren. Hagar bears a son, Ishmael. When fourteen years later Sarah conceives, she tells Abraham to send Hagar into the desert. God commands Abraham to obey Sarah's wish and she and Ishmael are sent to wander in the wilderness, where they become lost and are dying of thirst. Hagar crys out to God and is shown the way to a well and survival.

There are lots of these Italian views, many are better known than this but I liked the bold shapes and the warm reflected lights in the shadows on this one. If you squint at it, you can see the simple design. Corot has reduced the whole foreground-middleground to one great unified shape superimposed on the illuminated background.

Artist have often described the ideal design as a big dark shape with a patch of white within it, superimposed on a smaller light shape with a small dark within it. Or the opposite of that. This painting is laid out on that scheme. The large dark of the buildings is interrupted by the bridge abutment in the light, and the light background has the shape of a dark cloud at the upper left. This perfectly fulfills the requirement of that classical design idea.


Philip Koch said...

My first response to Stape's idea below was "WHAT???"

"Artist have often described the ideal design as a big dark shape with a patch of white within it, superimposed on a smaller light shape with a small dark within it."

Then I looked at the Corot pictured and saw it fit the idea perfectly. This is all too much for me to deal with so early in my morning.

But in its simplicity, it is an intriguing kernel to chew on.

Darren said...

Painter Marc Dalessio went hunting for Corot's bridge at Narni (second video):

jeff said...

I see someone beat me to it, I was going to mention Marc' trip to the bridge at Narni. Which has become quite over grown in the past 184 years.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You know. that might make a great neck tattoo.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I will look at that. I know that Corot supposedly cleaned up the area in his painting, that it was far wilder even in his own time.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I would like to go there too. I love going to the sites that artists painted.

Marc Dalessio said...

Just out of curiosity, why do you think "The Bridge at Narni" (1826) was made from from studies done on location?

It has always looked like a plein air piece to me. It's not very big either so it would have been easy to transport.

As others mentioned, I went to the spot where it was painted from. The forest has taken over the old path to the monastery where Corot stood (you find traces of the old over-grown stairs) and there is now a large cement bridge in front of the Augustinian one as well as factories in the valley behind.

I also think the river was in flood when he painted it (or at least after heavy rains), both from the color of the water, and the fact that those are the current flood banks.