We have not looked at much art history lately, so here is a very nice painting I came across yesterday. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot painted this work in 1851, and it was sold last week at Sotheby’s in London. It is titled La Rochelle: L’Abreuvoir (Watering hole) View taken near the Ramparts, with the Tower of the Lantern.
Does this painting have to do with rughooking? Well, let’s just say that if you spend a little time looking at it, you will absorb the evidence of good composition and design.
Take a look at how Corot created balance in his composition. There is a row of large trees on the left. What balances them out, on the right? How does your eye travel around the canvas, and what leads your eye? And though he painted from an actual (chosen) view of La Rochelle, why do you suppose he placed the figures of the woman and the man on the horse just where he did? Look, too, at the quite limited range of colors he used – virtually no bright colors at all… and that lovely sky! How does he give structure to the sky that enhances the balance of the view below?
I always like to look, when considering a painting, at where all the horizontal lines are, where the verticals and diagonals are, where the curves are.
“There is only one master here – Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing.” – Claude Monet, 1897
“He is still the strongest, he anticipated everything …” – Edgar Degas, 1883
Corot (1796-1875), a native of Paris, was considered a master of Romantic landscapes, but is credited with being a progenitor of Impressionism. His method of painting en plein air (painting in the outdoors, from the actual scene) drew the interest of much younger artists – Renoir, Monet, Degas and Pissarro, all of whom either experimented with Corot’s technique or called themselves his “pupils.” He anticipated the plein-air innovations of Impressionism.
“M. Corot has a remarkable quality that has eluded most of our artists today: he knows how to invent. His point of departure is always nature, but when he arrives at the interpretation of it, he no longer copies, he remembers it”. (Du Camp, 1864)
Several decades later, Impressionism would revolutionize art by taking a similar approach — quick, spontaneous painting done in the out-of-doors; but where the Impressionists used rapidly applied, un-mixed colors to capture light and mood, Corot usually mixed and blended his colors to get his dreamy effects.
Corot studied in France and Italy. In northern Europe, the true reality of the actual landscape was considered most important to capture (the “Northern Realism” school), while in the south and Italy, landscapes were painted in an idealized, more romanticised manner. Corot learned from both schools. His notebooks reveal hundreds of precise renderings of tree trunks, rocks, and plants. He learned how to give buildings and rocks the effect of volume and solidity with proper light and shadow, and would place suitable figures in his scenes to add human context and scale, as in the painting above. He considered his best works his “souvenirs” – small, accurately rendered landscapes, but filtered through his emotional reaction to the scenes – his “memories” of the scenes.
Corot was financially independent, so unlike many painters, he could paint what he wanted. La Rochelle was painted in 1851, and, after initial rejection by the Paris art world, Corot’s reputation was established by then. The 1850s was the period when his style became softer and his colours more restricted. In his later landscapes, he employed a small range of colors, often using soft colored greys and blue-greens, with very few spots of strong color, often confined to the clothing of the human figures. Topographical detail was suppressed in favour of mood and atmosphere, above all in his ‘souvenirs’, small works like La Rochelle (which is only about 13″ x 19″), which he considered his mementos of real landscapes.
This painting was sold at Sotheby’s about two weeks ago (June 6th, sale price unstated) but the pre-sale estimate was £100,000-£200,000 (about $130,000-$190,000). This painting was oil on canvas, actual size: 13¼ in. by 18¾ in.
Towards the end of his life, Corot became an elder of the Parisian artists’ community and would use his influence to gain commissions for other artists. He was well known for his kindness and charitable gifts, with large donations to the poor of Paris, other artists, their widows and families, and support of a day care center in his Parisian neighborhood.
Notes on Corot were compiled from the National Gallery of Art, Sotheby’s, and Wikipedia. To look at all of Corot’s work, and a detailed biography, go to www.jean-baptiste-camille-corot.org.
May all your rugs be just as you like, and balanced. Hook on!