Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) is a very big name in a very distinguished century for French art. Though best-known as a landscape painter, he was also no mean printmaker. Known for bridging the Neoclassical tradition of allegory set in nature with Realism and plein air (on the spot) practice, Corot embarked on his artistic career by studying landscape painting.
Although Corot initially struggled to gain acceptance in the establishment, he flourished as a landscapist, benefiting from multiple trips around Europe, especially Italy. Later he focussed on the Barbizon area, near Fontainebleau, hence the name 'The Barbizon School'. His early oil sketches, painted outdoors and characterised by their bright colors, fluid brushstrokes, and prioritisation of the expression of mood and atmosphere over topographical details, greatly influenced the Impressionists. Camille Pissarro and Auguste Renoir were both great admirers. In addition to poetic landscapes he painted portraits, and, seeking greater recognition at the Paris Salon, biblical and mythological scenes, which were considered the highest form of painting.
Despite only moderate success in the Salon, Corot's works earned accolades from the influential poet and critic Charles Baudelaire and fellow artists such as Eugène Delacroix - and later the Impressionists. In a 'progressive' account of art history, it could be said that Pissarro takes on where Corot leaves off, particularly in this etching. But such a thesis is in danger of playing down the intense, lumimous, atmospheric, often melancholic quality of his work which should be appreciated for its own sake.
Near the end of his career, Corot produced several etchings that explored memories of his three earlier trips to Italy, including this view of a hilly landscape with the dome of a church barely visible on the horizon. While his painted views of the Italian countryside are carefully composed and precise, this print exhibits extraordinary spontaneity and vigorous, almost wild, mark-making. It is closest to his sketches made on-site during rambles through the Roman and Tuscan countryside, but these prints are not based on specific sites or drawings. They are composite views designed to express the soul of the landscape as well as memories, the strongest of those conveyed clearly and darkly while others fade into the remote distance.
Dr Mark Stocker Curator, Historical International Art April 2018