Legacy of a Master

A painting makes a 150-year journey from the French countryside to a Vero Beach art gallery
Barbizon Landscape By Jean Baptiste Corot
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's “Barbizon Landscape” depicts the environs of the Forest of Fontainebleau, about 35 miles from Paris.

 

The artist stares at the small, bare canvas perched upon the easel in front of him. Then he looks beyond it, out to the meadows, the rolling hills and the stretch of water with its lone boat. He looks up at the elegant forms of the trees, their leaves appearing gray-green against a clouded sky. It is a scene characteristic of the French countryside the artist knows and loves. He turns his gaze back to the white canvas and thinks about how to convey the natural beauty that he sees through the painting he is beginning to imagine.

More than 150 years later, the painting is brought to an art gallery in Vero Beach. The artist had completed it, turning the white canvas into a fully realized landscape, and had continued to enjoy a successful career that would have a notable influence upon art history. His name was Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Not only was he one of the major French artists of the 19th century, but when he was at the peak of his renown, he proved to be a mentor and an inspiration to a group of younger artists who would become known as the impressionists. Claude Monet said of him, “There is only one master here — Corot.” This is the master whose painting found its way to the J. M. Stringer Gallery in Vero Beach this year.

The beauty of nature was Corot’s inspiration, and immersion in a natural environment was central to his process. He would work en plein air when creating a composition, doing extensive drawings and even oil studies based upon what he saw as he explored the countryside. The work might be finished in the studio, perhaps during the autumn and winter months when the weather made outdoor expeditions undesirable. 

In addition to the French countryside, the Paris-born artist also found inspiration in the landscapes of Italy. At first, Corot’s travels in Italy were part of his artistic training; in the early 18th century, any aspiring artist was expected to be well acquainted with both the history and scenery of the classical Mediterranean world.

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