Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was a French painter and engraver, one of the most succesful and fruitful painters of the 19th cent., who largely influenced on origin of realistic landscape and Barbizon school particularly.

Early years

Camille Corot was born in Paris on July 16, 1796. He could dedicate himself to art only in 26 years-old, as his parents – respectable bourgeois, a wigmaker and a milliner – didn’t understand why their son rejected to become a cloth merchant. Future painter started his training at the studio of Achille Etna Michallon in 1821. Corot had to stand neglecting attitude of critics and indifference of public for a long time. In the Salon, where he started exhibiting since 1827, his works were usually placed in the darkest corners. The artist would later said that only unselfish love to nature helped him to go through that.
Camille’s trip to Italy in 1825 – 1828 was especially important for shaping up his artistic personality. He left for the Apennines after three years of studying under the guidance of Jean-Victor Bertin – a recognized master of neoclassicistic landscape. There, drifting between despair, undeceiving in his potential and enthusiasm, Corot gave up canons and chose his own path – following nature.

Etudes of that period were painted carefully; despite their immaturity, they’re notable for freshness, airiness, lightness and delicacy of coloring. Composition of “Colosseum, seen through the Arcades of the Basilica of Constantine” is based on rhythmical repetition of basilica’s arcades on the foreground. That illustrates main method of the young master, as he was attracted by characteristic features, preferring sharpness in works to artistic slackness.

In Italy Corot paid a lot of attention to graphic arts, creating numerous sketches with ink or lead-pen. These weren’t simple “studies”, as the author attempted to capture an image of the area, whatever he was picturing – rocks of Civita Castellana or mountain valleys of Papigno. He worked analogically drawing groups of people – accent on general masses, without penetrating into details, allowed Camille to capture their character, spirit just for a few minutes.

Inspiration didn’t left the artist after his return to France. Corot was one of the first painters, who started working on the Seine’s embankments. He discovered the woods of Fontainebleau for himself, not so popular among Parisians at that time. Its centuries-old oaks, sand quarries somewhat reminded sceneries of Italy.

Etudes of that period revealed Corot as a keen observer. On one hand, in the Fontainebleau’s views he rendered for the Salon, Camille repeatedly adhered established schemes of landscapes. On the other hand, he used to experiment in his preparation work, like in etudes of cypresses in a garden of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon with “cut” composition.

Artistic maturity

Corot’s long (almost half of century) artistic career was largely submitted to changes of seasons. He worked in his Parisian studio in winter months, often attending opera and conservatory. But Camille found true joy in com with nature, so every spring he set off for a journey to paint “en plein aire” around various regions of France.

Camille Corot visited Italy two more times – in 1830s and 1840s. However, he was gradually loosing interest in South, being attracted with north-western coast, rural area and old towns of Il-de-France – historical center of the country.

He painted landscapes in different times of a day – in mornings, when mist hasn’t dissolved yet and the silhouettes of the objects are unclear; at dusk, when first stars appear on the sky. Master elaborated representing of atmosphere, lighting effects in sunny and gloomy days. Being sensitive to the changes in the surrounding, he felt them close human emotions. “If you have really been touched, you will convey to others the sincerity of your feeling”.

His painting manner transformed. If in his early years Corot had thought rendering etudes by parts to be the right decision, aspiring for completeness of a work, then he started working over the whole canvas at once. He didn’t hasten to show details and finished masses and mood of the painting first. In the parts, where the artist had “failed”, he scraped the pigments off the canvas to paint in a-la prima technique again. He made no mixed paints beforehand as other usually did, composing them while working. Every touch of a brush was an important mean of expressiveness for him. Sometimes he traced stalks or branches on the wet paint with the end of the brush-handle. The artist always made a sketch with lead-pen or chalk, and then outlined chiaroscuro relations in imprimatur, done in umbra, ochre or sienna, and only after started working with color.

Valeur painting

Corot’s coloring was based on muted combinations of silvery greys, blush, olive-green hues with contrasting blue and red spots. Soft tints – almost aquarelle, like in “Bell tower in Argenteuil (Road to the Church)” or intensive, like in “The Château de Pierrefonds” – have strong emotional effect. The painter wanted to transmit the feeling of nature’s inconstancy. That’s why he often referred to its transitional stations and fleeting moments –blow of the wind, sunlight on the grass, wet of dew.

Camille achieved the feeling of “quivering nature” through his acute tonal vision that gave him possibility to see numerous color gradations – valeurs. Corot’s palette was preserved till nowadays. It is noticeable for the amount of cerussa the painter used with other mineral paints – neapolitan yellow, yellow ochre, natural umbra, sienna, brown “Terre de Cassel”, cadmium, vermillion, emerald green, cobalt an Prussian blue. Corot believed that there’s no pure white in the brightest light or pure black in the shades. That’s why you won’t meet black pigment on his palette. Unfortunately, he applied quickly fading yellow lacquer for glazings, and light-green “Paul Veronese” that darkened in mixture with cadmium.


Camille Corot often introduced staffage in his landscapes – mainly figures of people doing their routine work: peasants, fishermen, shepherds (“Hay wain”). Sometimes the painter depicts mythological personages – dancing nymphs and playful putties, or idyllic scenes that reminds us of rococo epoch and Watteau’s heritage (“Memory of mortefontaine”). These were exactly those subjects that brought him fame in 1860s – 1870s, so Jean-Baptiste was overloaded with commissions for copying “dances of nymphs” and “memories”.

The artist also liked creating scenes, connected with music. Some of his subjects were inspired with famous operas, like “Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld” – canvas, dedicated to famous opera of Gluck. Musicality is inherent to Corot’s art with its smooth melodiousness of lines, rhythmic contrasts and nuances of hues. If some of Camille’s paintings can be associated with musical pastorals, then “Gust of wind” is closer to dramatic symphonies of Beethoven – his favorite composer. The master’s brush turned a simple scene into philosophical piece about human resisting forces of Nature.


Portraits occupy a special place in Corot’s legacy. His early portraits of Italian boy, profile of Alexina Ledoux, “Young Italian Woman from Papigno with Her Spindle” the artist demonstrated high skills in this genre. Camille often painted his numerous nieces, friend’s kids. Later, in 1860s he invited models that posed him in national costumes of different Italian regions. Those models, pictured mainly reading or playing musical instruments, are quite similar by their spirit of inner calmness and dignity. Corot chose vivid coloring and harmoniously combined clear tones of their dresses – red, gold, blue, white or lilac.

Last years

Fraco-prussian war of 1870 – 1871 burst out,w hen Camille Corot was in Paris. He donated large sums for the needs the military defense and field hospitals, continuing working hard in painting. In spring of 1871 he created one of his last works – “The Belfry, Douaz” – that summarized all artistic searches of the author, connected with the ways of representing light and air. It comes as no surprise that among his followers we can find names of great impressionists Pissarro and Sisley, Monet and Degas, who picked up and developed the idea of plein air painting.

Died on February 22, 1875 in Paris.