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Landscape Painting Lessons from the Masters: Corot

29 Aug 2011

Recollection of Mortefontaine by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, landscape oil painting, 1864.
Recollection of Mortefontaine by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,
landscape oil painting, 1864.

One of my great heroes in art is Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875), the world-famous French artist who is still considered one of the best landscape artists of all time. His poetic paintings stop me in my tracks and soothe my soul every time I come across one in a book or museum.

Corot is often associated with the Barbizon School, but like many of the great artists in history, he was really his own man, carving out his own personal niche in the world of landscape painting. His looser late work from the 1850s through the 1870s, which is the culmination of his life's pure dedication to art, is neither as idealized nor as gritty as many of the other artists of his day, and is actually a precursor of the Impressionists who rose to fame just after him. Like his colleagues, he created his finished works in the studio, but he painted many preparatory sketches outdoors on location.

Perhaps the word that is most often used to describe Corot's landscapes is "poetic," which is a quality I strive for in my own work. So I've spent a lot of time analyzing how he achieved this expressive quality that invites viewers in and encourages tranquility.

Landscape by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, landscape oil painting, 1875. Thatched Cottage in Normandy by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, landscape oil painting, c. 1872.
Landscape by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,
landscape oil painting, 1875.
Thatched Cottage in Normandy by Jean-Baptiste-
Camille Corot, landscape oil painting, c. 1872.

First and foremost, I think Corot's work is poetic because it is often quiet in color. He did not use a lot of bright hues, and in fact, he included browns, blacks, and other neutrals on his palette. Sometimes criticized for his subdued color, Corot answered that his goal was to create a cohesive work of tonal harmony by composing his works based on values, as opposed to color. His free, gentle, never overworked brushwork and soft edges also contribute to the misty, atmospheric effects in his landscape art.

Pool in the Woods by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, landscape oil painting, 1865-1870.
Pool in the Woods by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot,
landscape oil painting, 1865-1870.
Yet, as soft and ethereal as his paintings appear, Corot's work is never dull. And I think that comes from his use of silvery colors, often in the form of sparkling highlights, that cascade over his paintings. These flecks of light bring movement and vitality to his paintings.

So what do you think of Corot's work? What techniques--his or some of your own--do you use to create poetry, mood, or atmosphere in your paintings? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

-Jennifer

 


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Comments

mark beale wrote
on 30 Aug 2011 6:03 AM

Corot is indeed king of the French Barbizon and Monet often admitted that none of those who followed, including himself, could hold up next to Corot. He was a master of greens and tightly controlled the values in each given painting to achieve his brilliant atmospheric perspective. Corot portrayed 3 divisions of light, each having a different quality-one for foreground, midground, and background. These were carefully orchestrated to achieve an effortless, soothing quality in his work that still resonates as strongly today. Mark Beale.

on 30 Aug 2011 8:29 AM

About a year ago, I went to see a Homer exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine.  They had one little Corot hanging just as you entered the Homer exhibit.  It so completely grabbed me, I let Homer wait ten minutes or so.  I became a huge Corot fan that day.

Celia Blanco wrote
on 31 Aug 2011 1:10 AM

I was fortunate enough to enjoy Corot's work at  the Louvre- there is a room filled with his work. I especially fell in love with his landscapes of  Roman antiquity. He masterfully captures the glow , typical of Rome, with drama yet still using such subtle color choices.