What You Should Know About Camille Corot

Camille Corot, circa 1850
Camille Corot, circa 1850

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, known simply as Camille Corot, was a French landscape painter and one of the founding members of the Barbizon school. His lifelong love affair with the landscapes of Europe would lead to masterpieces that molded the form today.

Setting the scene for Impressionism that would come after he was gone, here’s more of what you need to know about Camille Corot.

Unlike many artists, Corot was not a starving artist

Born to parents who ran a fashionable milliner’s shop, Corot was part of the bourgeoisie and never needed money. He wasn’t the best student and struggled academically. He also failed to follow in his father’s footsteps as a wigmaker. 

Eventually, when Corot was 25, his parents offered him an allowance to pursue his passion for painting. He spent his time studying the great masterpieces housed at the Louvre and spent some time as an apprentice to Achille-Etna Michallon and Jean-Victor Bertin.

La Trinite-des-Monts, Camille Corot, 1825-1828
La Trinite-des-Monts, Camille Corot, 1825-1828

He would go on to travel and draw inspiration for his landscapes without much material worry. In short, he wasn’t the struggling artist we so often hear about.

In fact, during the 1830s, Corot’s paintings rarely sold even though they were often exhibited at the Salon de Paris. It wasn’t until the 1840s and 50s that his work came to fruition. Corot’s father passed away in 1847, in time to see that the monetary support for his son’s ambitions as an artist had not gone to waste.

View from the Farnese Gardens, Camille Corot, 1826
View from the Farnese Gardens, Camille Corot, 1826

Still, Corot was rather generous and would sometimes use his money to give less fortunate artist-friends some assistance. It was said that he helped out the caricaturist Honoré Daumier.

Corot preferred to paint outdoors versus in studios

Corot was truly in love with landscapes and nature. In the summer, he’d paint outside, but in the winter, he’d be forced to work indoors.

Although he much preferred painting outside of a studio to sketch exactly what he saw and learn from his real experience of the land around him. Still, it was probably a blessing in disguise that Corot spent the winter painting inside.

Stormy Weather, Pas de Calais, Camille Corot, 1870
Stormy Weather, Pas de Calais, Camille Corot, 1870

Annually, he would submit his work to the Salon which opened every year in May. Those winters were time to perfect the work he started outside and was a much better way to complete large canvases.

Corot never married and remained devoted only to his landscapes

From 1825, Corot spent three years in Italy and fell madly in love with painting landscapes. In 1826, he told a friend, “All I really want to do in life is paint landscapes. This firm resolve will stop me forming any serious attachments. That is to say, I shall not get married.”

Ville d’Avray, Camille Corot, 1867
Ville d’Avray, Camille Corot, 1867

Corot formed a rigid routine where he painted all the time. This constant repetition and dedication created a mastery of the relationship between tones and colors that make his work so magnificent. 

Even though landscapes were truly the love of his life, he did complete a few portraits of women later in his career. Corot painted women holding flowers or a musical instrument as they looked upon a landscape painting on an easel. These paintings rarely showed up in the public sphere and seemed to be more of Corot’s private endeavors.

Interrupted Reading, Camille Corot, 1870
Interrupted Reading, Camille Corot, 1870

Corot spent time in Italy and traveled a lot

Corot’s first trip to Italy lasted three years. His travels started in Rome where he painted the city, the Campagna, and the Roman countryside as well as spending some time in Naples and Ischia.

He visited Italy for the second time in 1834, but this trip lasted only a few months. During these weeks, Corot painted countless landscapes of Volterra, Florence, Pisa, Genoa, Venice, and the Italian lake district.

Venise, La Piazzetta, Camile Corot, 1835
Venise, La Piazzetta, Camile Corot, 1835

As expected, Corot moved around less and less as he aged. Still, he visited Italy one last time for a brief visit in the summer of 1843 and continued to travel throughout Europe, just less extensively. 

In 1836, he made important voyages to Avignon and the south of France. In 1842, he visited Switzerland, in 1854, the Netherlands, and in 1862, he went to London. France remained his favorite country though and he particularly enjoyed the forest of Fontainebleau, Brittany, the Normandy coast, his property at Ville-d’Avray, Arras, and Douai.

View of the Forest of Fontainebleau, Camille Corot, 1830
View of the Forest of Fontainebleau, Camille Corot, 1830

Corot won various awards for his artwork

Corot’s first important work was The Bridge at Narni which was shown at the 1827 Salon and later, in 1833 his landscape of the forest of Fontainebleau was awarded the second-class medal from Salon critics.

The Bridge at Narni, Camille Corot, 1826
The Bridge at Narni, Camille Corot, 1826

This award is significant because it meant that he could show his paintings at the exhibit without going through the submission process of asking the jury for approval.

In 1840, the state purchased The Little Shepard and his career exploded. Five years later, art critic Charles Baudelaire wrote: “Corot stands at the head of the modern school of landscape.” 

Also in 1855, the Paris Universal Exposition awarded him the first-class medal and Emperor Napoleon III bought one of his pieces. Then, in 1846, Corot was made a member of the Legion of Honor of which he was promoted to an officer the very next year. 

His work received praise and acclaim from many angles. Still, Corot remained quite conservative throughout his life and wasn’t so much concerned with fame and prestige.

Corot was friends with important artists and became a teacher himself

As a major part of the Barbizon group of artists, Corot was friends with other prominent artists such as Jean-Francoise Millet, Theodore Rousseau, and Charles-Francoise Daubigny. He gave lessons to upcoming artists, notably Camille Pisarro and Berthe Morisot.

Woman with a Pearl, Camille Corot, 1868-1870
Woman with a Pearl, Camille Corot, 1868-1870

Corot was known lovingly as “Papa Corot” and is said to have been kind and generous up until his death. Leading the way in landscape paintings as we know them today is something we can be grateful to Corot for.

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