Oncle Corot

It’s impossible to escape Camille Corot in the Louvre. There’s tons of his stuff there, but it’s mostly landscape painting and therefore sort of blends into the surroundings. Landscapes are a weird theme in art if they are not paired with some sort of larger theme like a heroic legend. It’s like painting the battlefield on the wrong day. Nothing’s going on, what’s the point?

Wikipedia tells me that Corot was involved in something called the Barbizon School which reverted to Realistic scenes and “drew inspiration directly from nature.” I don’t know what this “drawing” refers to, really, or why their work has to be described like that, but it seems like they wanted the backdrop of the old stories to act as independent works of art. Wikipedia also tells me that unlike the scores of obnoxious and mentally unstable people who seem to flock to the painter’s trade Corot was actually just about as nice a guy you could ever meet.

Because of my hectic schedule at the Louvre, it was impossible to sit down and rest for longer periods of time. However, I had to do that a couple times and one of the paintings that grabbed my eye during a rest was Corot’s Le Chevrier italien.

Source: Wikipedia

It’s a sunset, and it’s horribly boring, I think. But it’s a pleasant boredom that is eerily calming. Corot’s earlier work is quite unobtrusive and the eye rests in the accurate detail and soft light. It’s boring and fantastic at the same time. There’s some sort of tunnel effect that sucks the viewer into the painting, giving a view of the setting sun surrounded and cushioned by the dark woods and cliffs. It feels safe.

Corot is one of the few artists whose stuff is at home in the Louvre as well as Musée d’Orsay. His technique always remained dedicated to precision, but he was not afraid to bring new elements into his art. Take, for instance, this 1872 piece:

Source: Wikipedia

There’s clearly some sort of Impressionist influence here, but still the details are executed with precision. It’s like a photo where the lens has been smudged with something, grease maybe, and the pollen flying around the forest has stuck to it. You can be fairly sure that this is nothing like what Corot had in mind, but there is something in the air. And again there’s a lonely figure, doing nothing.

When it came to these new innovations in painting, Corot seemed to be like a cool uncle who is delighted to break from his old habits when new and exciting ideas are presented. He does not fake it, he takes the idea for a spin and tries to make something of it without becoming something he’s not or parroting it blindly.

Source: Wikipedia

The younger Corot shines through the new ideas, like in the 1874 landscape depicting a mill above. There’s again a Impressionistic or even Pointillist effect, but it’s not about the shock of the technique that makes the scene. Like with the earlier pictures, it seems like Corot knows exactly what he’s doing and what he wants. He’s not running around trying to pass for one of the youngsters. He comes out as a person who is dignified and fun at the same time, a difficult combination.

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