Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Corot: Painter's Painter

French 19th century painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's rural landscapes offered a freshness and spontaneity that seemed too experimental and unfinished to the taste-makers his time. But their lithe, sinuous lines and gauzy, atmospheric tonalities charmed admirers then as they do now.

Corot is a "painter's painter;" artists love him deeply and for different reasons.

One artist sees in him the "chaste" and "devout" pilgrim of Beauty, his canvases more like devotionals than landscapes. For another, who notes that “although a good Christian, he was not a bad Pagan Greek,” his work is dreamy, sensual, and earthy (one bitter rival even complained about how effortlessly the unmarried Corot seemed to charm his young models into his boudoir).

Corot is said to have had an unshakable contentment in life. The critic Edmond de Goncourt fumed that the painter was
the happy man par excellence. When he is painting, happy to paint; when he is not painting, happy to rest. Happy with his modest fortune before he inherited; happy with his inheritance when he inherited. Happy to live in obscurity when he was unknown; happy with his successes
Yet there's something quiet and singular in these paintings, despite the artist's habitual cheer. Rightly, I think, Roger Kimball points to "a quality of fathomless silence in many of Corot’s paintings, an essential stillness that impresses one as contemplative or quietly melancholic by turns."

Dismissing concern about his possible loneliness without a mate, Corot pointed to the key that unlocks the mystery of his happiness: “I have only one goal in life that I want to pursue faithfully: to make landscapes."

He found his work, loved it, and stayed faithful to what he loved. If he teaches us nothing else, let it be that.

For more on Corot, check out the recent posts by the prolific and faithful blogger and professional landscapist Stapleton Kearns, to whom credit must go for this selection of Corot's paintings.


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