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Title: Corot - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Allnutt, Sidney
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Masterpieces in Colour

Edited by--T. Leman Hare



       *       *       *       *       *


  ARTIST.                AUTHOR.
  VELAZQUEZ.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
  REYNOLDS.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
  TURNER.                C. LEWIS HIND.
  ROMNEY.                C. LEWIS HIND.
  GREUZE.                ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
  BELLINI.               GEORGE HAY.
  LEIGHTON.              A. LYS BALDRY.
  RAPHAEL.               PAUL G. KONODY.
  TITIAN.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
  MILLAIS.               A. LYS BALDRY.
  TINTORETTO.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
  LUINI.                 JAMES MASON.
  VAN DYCK.              PERCY M. TURNER.
  RUBENS.                S. L. BENSUSAN.
  WHISTLER.              T. MARTIN WOOD.
  HOLBEIN.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
  CHARDIN.               PAUL G. KONODY.
  MEMLINC.               W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
  CONSTABLE.             C. LEWIS HIND.
  RAEBURN.               JAMES L. CAW.
  LAWRENCE.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
  DÜRER.                 H. E. A. FURST.
  MILLET.                PERCY M. TURNER.
  WATTEAU.               C. LEWIS HIND.
  HOGARTH.               C. LEWIS HIND.
  MURILLO.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
  WATTS.                 W. LOFTUS HARE.
  INGRES.                A. J. FINBERG.
  COROT.                 SIDNEY ALLNUTT.
  DELACROIX.             PAUL G. KONODY.

_Others in Preparation._

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration: PLATE I.--DANSE DES BERGERS. Frontispiece

The "Danse des Bergers" is the living memorial of a happy mood--one of
those moments of lyrical ecstasy of which Corot experienced so many, and
which, by his genius, those less fortunate are enabled to share. The
"feeling" in the drawing and painting of the trees is reminiscent of
some words spoken by the painter when Paris was oppressing him--"I need
living boughs. I want to see how the leaves of the willow grow from
their branches. I am going to the country. When I bury my nose in a
hazel-bush, I shall be fifteen years old. It is good; it breathes




Illustrated with Eight Reproductions in Colour


London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.


     I. Danse des Bergers        Frontispiece
    II. L'Etang                            14

   III. Les Chaumières                     24

    IV. Le Soir                            34

     V. Paysage                            40

    VI. Le Vallon                          50

   VII. Souvenir d'Italie                  60

  VIII. Vue du Colisée                     70

          All the illustrations are taken
              from the Louvre, Paris


The work of Jean Baptiste Camille Corot has been steadily rising in the
estimation of the instructed ever since he won his first notable
successes in 1840. During the greater part of the artist's life-time the
rise was very gradual, and he would have been astonished indeed if he
could have known how rapid it was to be after his death. It is by no
means only a rise in the selling prices of such of his works as come
into the market--a Corot has something more than a collector's value;
but figures are in their way eloquent, and when we find a work ("Le Lac
de Garde") for which the painter was glad to get 800 francs selling for
231,000 francs within thirty years of his death, the rapid growth in the
fame of the painter is materially evidenced.

There are fashions in art as in everything else: for reasons which the
dealers could often disclose if they would, this or that artist's work
is suddenly boomed, and for a time commands absurdly big prices in the
auction rooms, only to find its proper level again when it is no longer
to anybody's interest to maintain an artificial valuation. But it is
difficult to believe that the passing of years will do anything to
diminish the fame of Corot, or lessen the prices which connoisseurs are
willing to pay for the possession of his work. Rather will both
increase, there is reason to think, as under the winnowing of Time's
wings the chaff is separated from the grain, and many a painter hailed
as a master to-day is scorned if not forgotten. For whatever may happen,
it is impossible to believe that the work of Corot will ever become
old-fashioned. There is in it something that does not belong to one
time, but to all times; not to one place, but to all places. It is
elemental and universal, and instinct with a vitality and youth that
unnumbered to-morrows can have no power to destroy.

Even those critics who most strongly opposed the canons Corot
professed--and there were many of them--were often unable to condemn a
heresy in which faith was so justified by works: coming to curse, like
Balaam, they remained to bless. A far more trying ordeal the artist had
to undergo in the intemperate rhapsodies of enthusiastic admirers. But
neither censure or praise, the scepticism of his own people, or the
indifference of the picture-buying public, could tempt him to deviate
from the path that for him was the right one. "Vive la conscience, vive
la simplicité!" he used to say. His creed was in the words, and he lived
up to it.

He claimed for the artist an entire independence. "You must interpret
nature with entire simplicity, and according to your personal sentiment,
altogether detaching yourself from what you know of the old masters or
of contemporaries. Only in this way will you do work of real feeling. I
know gifted people who will not avail themselves of their power. Such
people seem to me like a billiard-player, whose adversary is constantly
giving him good openings, but who makes no use of them. I think that if
I were playing with that man, I would say, 'Very well, then, I will
give you no more.' If I were to sit in judgment, I would punish the
miserable creatures who squander their natural gifts, and I would turn
their hearts to cork." Again he says--"Follow your convictions. It is
better not to exist than to be the echo of other painters. As the wise
man says, if one follows, one is behind." And again--"Art should be an
individual expression of the verities, an ardour that concedes nothing."

[Illustration: PLATE II.--L'ETANG.

"Beauty in art is truth bathed in the impression, the emotion that is
received from nature.... Seek truth and exactitude, but with the
envelope of sentiment which you felt at first. If you have been sincere
in your emotion you will be able to pass it on to others." So said Corot
to a pupil, and "L'Etang" would in itself be sufficient to prove that he
knew how to practise what he preached. It is a variant on a simple
motive that he was never weary of, and that he knew how to invest with
new beauties every time it came to him.]

It is on the face of it rather a hopeless task to attempt to trace the
artistic pedigree of a painter who, at all costs, will be individual
with "an ardour that concedes nothing"; and it would not help much
towards an understanding of him. At the same time, it would be a mistake
to suppose that Corot was quite so independent of the influences around
as, perhaps, he imagined himself to be. "Artists," says Shelley in a
notable utterance, "cannot escape from subjection to a common influence
which arises out of an infinite combination of circumstances belonging
to the times in which they live, though each is in a degree the author
of the very influence by which his being is thus pervaded."

Thus Corot took his part in the revolt against classicism in France,
with which the name of the little village of Barbizon is so inseparably
associated. He coloured it, and was coloured by it--so much was
inevitable; but his intense individuality none the less preserved him in
an aloofness from what I may be permitted to call the broad path of the
movement. And as he grew older, so far from becoming more affected by
his contemporaries, he only seemed more and more to discover himself.

Before all things Corot was an idealist--a painter of ideas rather than
of actualities; which, of course, does not in any way discount his
simple sincerity. His landscapes give the idea of a place or an effect
rather than its exterior appearance. The rendering of a beautiful
passage of colour, of a gracious form, or a delicate play of light and
shade, was never held to be sufficient. Within the body of phenomena he
saw the throbbing heart and luminous soul of Nature revealed; and it was
the very heart and soul of his subject that he strove to prison in his
pigments. At the same time, dreamer as he was, there was always in him a
healthiness and sanity rare indeed amongst those who are given to seeing

I remember a studio gathering at which Corot was discussed. I wish the
master, who always loved to be praised by those who could understand and
were sincere, could have heard what was said of him. At length some one
said, "Corot was a great artist. It is true that he also happened to be
a great painter." The words seemed to me to have meanings.

A painter is a man who does something; an artist one who is something.
The statement may not be new, but it is true; and what it involves is, I
think, too often forgotten.

In considering what a painter has done it is natural enough to be
preoccupied with his method, to become immersed in an analysis of his
technique. There will be an attempt to determine whether he is
faithfully obedient to the accepted canons, or modifying and adapting,
if not it may be defying them. In the latter case an endeavour must be
made to find a solution for the question whether these progressive or
revolutionary activities are justified in their result.

It is criticism of this sort that fills innumerable studios with a
jargon unintelligible to all but those who are, so to say, "in the
trade" in one way or another, and can speak with a craftsman
knowledge--of technical terms if of nothing else. Such talk is often
futile enough, a breaking of butterfly nothings upon a ponderous wheel
of words; though it can, on occasion, be useful enough. In any case only
a few, comparatively speaking, are likely to be either interested or

It is altogether another matter when an artist is approached. How he
conveys his message is of much less importance than what is conveyed. He
may be poet, painter, or musician, but the need for understanding what
he does is infinitely less than that of learning what he is. This is not
to say that, in the case of the artist, technique is beneath
consideration; but it is to say that it must not be considered first.
Trembling script sometimes give the authentic gospel its birth in words,
and a true vision may be recorded by an uncertain hand. To lose sight
of the artist in contemplating the technique of the work by which he
reveals himself is to sacrifice the substance for the shadow.

Corot was a great artist. To him his art was not a trade or an
amusement, still less a trick, but a religion. He worshipped with an
unceasing diligence and intensity before the chosen altar of his
adoration. Less than his best he dared not offer there. Nothing that was
not wholly honest and true could be acceptable. What a magnificent
character he gives to himself, all unconsciously, in confessing to M.
Chardin an artistic sin! "One day I allowed myself to do something chic;
I did some ornamental thing, letting my brush wander at will. When it
was done I was seized with remorse; I could not close my eyes all night.
As soon as it was day, I ran to my canvas, and furiously scratched out
all the work of the previous evening. As my flourishes disappeared, I
felt my conscience grow calmer, and once the sacrifice was accomplished
I breathed freely, for I felt myself rehabilitated in my own sight."

What would some of our painters say to a conscience so tyrannous?

It is, for me, impossible to look at Corot's work without feeling that
his was, if I may put it so, a monastic nature. Here is a serene and
cloistered art, something secluded from the traffic of the everyday
world, a vision intense rather than wide. I think of Corot as a priest
at the altar of one of Nature's innermost sanctuaries celebrating
sacramental mysteries. Every picture that came from him is an elevation
of the Host.

This is the quality in his work, much more than a fastidious refinement
nearer the surface, that gives it so high a distinction. Hung in a
gallery among other pictures, a Corot does not clamour for notice. It
is much too quiet in matter and manner for that; but, after awhile, it
draws the eye, and when it has done so its hold is secure. The
surrounding canvases almost invariably begin to look a little vulgar in
its neighbourhood. And this not only because rioting colour might well
look blatant by the side of the tender greys and greens and rose flushes
that the artist loved so well, but because the spirituality of which
those tones are merely the expression places the Corot upon another and
a higher plane.

To come upon a Corot in a gallery is like stepping out of the noisy
glare of the market-place into the cool stillness of a church.
Market-places are good things, and the noisy crowd is perhaps only noisy
because it is doing its appointed work in a right hearty fashion; but
the Presence seems nearer in the silence of the church. The silence is
not dead, but quick with soundless speech. So with a Corot picture;
its quietness is the very antipodes of stagnation. It seems to spread
far beyond the limits of the frame in ever-widening waves, until
everything around is subdued.


Luminous and almost uncannily true in tone, "Les Chaumières" takes high
rank among the finest productions of Corot's maturer years. It is the
work of a man who "knows," who is able to take hold of essentials, and
let non-essentials go, with a certainty of discrimination. Profound
knowledge, so thoroughly assimilated as to be instinctive in its
application, can alone account for both the completeness and simplicity
of the landscape, the result achieved with apparently so absolute a lack
of effort.]

The only other works of art which have ever given me quite the same
impression in this direction are one or two of those dreaming Buddhas
that, wherever they may be, seem to be shrined in a stillness emanating
from themselves.

From first to last Corot was as independent as he was industrious. He
strove always to see Nature with his own eyes, and to keep his vision
clear and simple. Whether or not other painters had a grander or nobler
vision was nothing to him. It mattered only that he should be true to
the grace that was his own. "I pray God every day," he said, "that He
will keep me a child; that is to say, that He will enable me to see and
draw with the eye of a child." That prayer was surely answered, for
never did an artist look out upon the world with a more direct
simplicity, or with eyes more delicately sensitive to the appeal of

It was seldom the obviously picturesque that appealed to him. He seemed
instantly to apprehend the most elusive of the beauties in the scene
before him. That death-bed utterance of Daubigny is significant: "Adieu;
I go above to see if friend Corot has found me new landscapes to paint."
That was it: Corot never failed to find new landscapes to paint, for his
eye was keen enough to pierce through what seemed commonplace, and
discover the underlying beauty. Starting off on one of his innumerable
sketching excursions, he remarks to a friend that he has heard bad
accounts from painters of the country for which he is bound, but adds
that he has no doubt he will find pictures there. And, of course, he
found them. The pictures are always there, though the faculty of seeing
them is rare.

No one ever worked more constantly and faithfully from Nature, or became
more intimately acquainted with the subtle outward expressions of her
innermost moods; but the profound knowledge thus gained was only treated
as the poet treats a wide vocabulary; as a means of expression, not as
in itself worth exploitation. The scene before him was not recorded as a
collection of facts, but as it had stirred his emotions, and as it was,
in a sense, transformed by his vivid imagination. The resulting picture
is the record of an adventure of the soul; the outward reality is not
lost, but rather realised in a strange intensity. "See," said Corot,
pointing to one of his landscapes, "see the shepherdess leaning against
the trunk of that tree. See, she turns suddenly. She hears a field-mouse
stirring in the grass."

Of how the artist went to work when he had "found" a new landscape some
notion may be gained from M. Silvestre's description. "If Corot sees two
clouds that at first sight appear to be equally dark, he will, before
building up the whole harmony of his picture on one or other of them,
apply himself to discover the difference he knows must exist. Then, when
he has decided on the darkest as well as the lightest tone in the scene
before him, the intermediate values readily take their places, and
subdivide themselves indefinitely before his discerning eyes. These
values, from the most positive to the most vague, call to one another
and give answer, like echo and voice. When the artist sees he can divide
the principal values of the landscape before him into four, he does so
by numbering the different parts of his rough sketch from 1 to 4, 4
standing for the darkest and 1 for the lightest patch, while the
intermediate tones are represented by 2 and 3. This method enables
Corot, with the help of any old pencil and any scrap of paper, to make
records of the most transitory effects seen upon a journey. Corot was
not a man to make an inventory of his sentiments, and the fact that he
made such records proves that they were sufficient for his own purposes.
As a rule he first of all puts in his sky, then the more important
masses in the middle of the composition, then those to the left and to
the right; he then picks out the forms of the reflections in the water,
if there is water, and so establishes the planes of his picture, his
masses falling in one behind the other while one watches him. Sometimes
he proceeds in a less orderly way; for it goes without saying that his
methods are the methods of freedom, and not the invariable recipes of a
pedant. He runs an unquiet eye over every part of the canvas before
putting a touch in place, sure that it does no violence to the general
effect. If he makes haste he may become clumsy and rough, leaving here
and there inequalities of impasto. These he afterwards removes with a
razor, as if he were shaving his landscape, and leaving himself free to
profit by such accidents of surface as are happy in effect."

The picture of Corot sketching in shorthand shows him when the long and
close study of Nature had enabled him to generalise with confidence, and
when a memory, always retentive, had been trained to a pitch that made
it far more reliable than any sketchbook memoranda. Although he always
expressed impatience with the idea that anything worth doing could be
done merely by taking pains, Corot was the least apt of men to spare any
pains that were essential to his purpose; and nothing could be farther
from the truth than the suggestion sometimes made, that he was wanting
in this respect. To generalise as he generalised is not to be careless
of detail, but the very reverse: it implies a knowledge so complete of
every element in a landscape that those belonging to a particular view
of it can be selected with an unerring judgment, and what is
non-essential eliminated. "Put in as much as you like at first, and
afterwards efface the superfluity," is a bit of advice that comes from
Corot himself. It was not a strikingly original remark, but it could not
have been made by other than a conscientious worker.

It is certainly a mistake to suppose that Corot was careless of details
in the sense that he did not give them due consideration; but he always
realised that details were details after all. "I never hurry to the
details of a picture," he said; "its masses and general character
interest me before anything else. When those are well established, I
search out the subtleties of form and colour. Incessantly and without
system I return to any and every part of my canvas."

There is a note in Mr. George Moore's _Modern Painting_ that seems to
throw some illumination upon Corot's manner of looking at his subject.
Mr. Moore came upon the artist, an old man then, "in front of his easel
in a pleasant glade. After admiring his work, I ventured to say: 'What
you are doing is lovely, but I cannot find your composition in the
landscape before us.' He said, 'My foreground is a long way ahead.' And
sure enough, nearly two hundred yards away, his picture rose out of the
dimness of the dell, stretching a little beyond the vista into the

I think Corot's foreground had a habit of being a considerable way

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--LE SOIR

"My 'Soir,' I love it, I love it! It is so firm," said Corot, standing
before his picture in the exhibition gallery in company with an
appreciative friend. It is "firm" enough beyond question, and the sky
especially is a marvel of delicate, palpitating colour. But it is much
more, a moment of magic beauty, evanescent as the reflected picture on a
bubble-bell, seized and made permanent; an emotion of pleasure cast into
a material shape.]

To most, Corot is "the man of greys," the painter of the twilight.
Without for a moment suggesting that this is true in so far as it
seems to hint that his art had very narrow limitations, I am certainly
inclined to believe that the general eye has fixed itself upon his most
characteristic and most valuable work. The two dawns, as the old
Egyptians called them, Isis and Nephthys, the dawn of day and the dawn
of night, revealed themselves to Corot with a fulness to be measured
only perhaps in part by the manner in which he has revealed them to us.
The stillness, the freshness, the indescribable tremor of awakening
life, the curious sense of a remoteness in familiar things, the
expectancy as of some momentous revelation, all that goes to make the
mystery and magic of the dawn, he knew how to translate into subtle yet
easily understandable terms of form, and tone, and colour. It was a
miracle to which he seemed to have found the key--perhaps by means of
that prayer to be "kept a child." Over and over again he invoked the
dawn to appear upon his canvas, and never in vain. In ever-varying robes
of loveliness, but the same in all of them, the dawn responded to his

Grey dawn! The words had a cold and gloomy sound until Corot interpreted
them, taking the gloom away and leaving of the cold only the delicious
shiver of the morning freshness. Beautiful almost as the dawn
itself--born of it as they were--are those wonderful pearly greys of
his. His palette seemed to hold an infinite range of them, each pure and
perfect in itself, and each in a true harmonic relation to the others.

And if the painted dawns are beautiful, they are also true; they carry
instant conviction of their absolute verity. There is only one thing
that can make a painted canvas do this, and that is truth of tone, and
of tone-values Corot made himself a master, mainly because he never
ceased to be a student. He retained the eye of a child, but his mind
became stored with the accumulated experience of many long hours that
were only not laborious because the work was a delight. And great as the
store grew in process of time, he was adding to it up to the last.

Here is a picture by Albert Wolff of the artist at the age of 79, when
the hand of Death was already stretched out towards him. "An old man,
come to the completion of a long life, clothed in a blouse, sheltered
under a parasol, his white hair aureoled in reflections, attentive as a
scholar, trying to surprise some secret of nature that had escaped him
for seventy years, smiling at the chatter of the birds, and every now
and again throwing them the bar of a song, as happy to live and enjoy
the poetry of the fields as he had been at twenty. Old as he was, this
great artist still hoped to be learning."

It is altogether an important thing about Corot that he was always
singing--in season and out of season I was about to say, when I
remembered that he would probably have declared that it was always
singing-time. He went to his work carolling like a lark, though with a
somewhat robuster organ, and snatches of song punctuated his brush
strokes. The day's work done, he broke out into melody in earnest, and
sang to himself, to his friends, at home or abroad, with equal vigour
and enjoyment. We are told that on one occasion his irrepressible song
broke out at an official reception, doubtless to the confusion of
dignities and the shocking of many most respectable people.

I cannot but think that something of music found its way into Corot's
pictures. They look as if they could have been done in music as well as
they were done in paint. In a way they were: if there was always a
song on his lips, surely there was also a song at his heart. One may
say that his paintings were built to music like the walls of Thebes.
They are haunted by sweet harmonies, and seem charged with hidden
melodies that tremble on the verge of sound.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--PAYSAGE

The play of light filtering through foliage has never been more
beautifully rendered upon canvas, or with a closer approximation to the
truth of Nature, than in the "Paysage," reproduced here. The manner in
which the tree has been portrayed, the body and soul of it, is not less
astonishing. The landscape is a masterpiece among masterpieces, and an
impressive witness to Corot's amazingly sensitive faculty of
apprehending what was in front of him, both with eye and mind.]

Many of those who read may shake their heads at this attempt to make a
confusion of two arts, but my apology shall take the form of a quotation
from Corot himself. Moved to sudden emotion by a magnificent view, he
exclaimed, "What harmony! What grandeur! It is like Gluck!" I think the
man who said that may possibly have painted a little music, without
caring for a moment whether he was confusing the arts or not. Perhaps he
felt that painting and music were more nearly related than a certain
school of critics can allow itself to admit. But that is by the way.

When in Paris he was frequent in his attendances at concerts and the
opera, and indeed music always drew him with a power only second to that
of his chosen mistress--painting. As the twig is bent the tree will
grow--it may be that had the accidents of his early environment been
other than they were, his name would be famous as that of a great
composer instead of a great painter. Fortunately we do not know what we
may have missed, while we are fully conscious of what we have gained.

       *       *       *       *       *

The father of Corot the painter was Louis Jacques Corot, who, if he
escaped being altogether a hairdresser, only did so by a narrow margin.
One would rather like to imagine him as another "Carrousel, the barber
of Meridian Street."

  "Such was his art, he could with ease
    Curl wit into the dullest face;
  Or to a goddess of old Greece
    Lend a new wonder and a grace.
  The curling irons in his hand
    Almost grew quick enough to speak;
  The razor was a magic wand
    That understood the softest cheek."

Such was Carrousel, according to Aubrey Beardsley's ballad, and such
Louis Jacques Corot should surely have been, if only to make his son
more easily explainable; but, as a matter of fact, he appears at an
early age to have forsaken the high art of hairdressing for more
strictly commercial pursuits. He became a clerk, and his wife's
assistant manager.

For Madame Corot was a business woman--very much so. She was a native of
Switzerland, and evidently of the practical nature that so often
distinguishes the Swiss people. A woman of property in a moderate way,
and two years older than her husband, as well as a capable manager, she
does not appear by any means to have allowed marriage to submerge her
own personality. As a _marchande de modes_ she was a distinct success.
Fashion found its way to her establishment in the Rue du Bac, and the
name Corot became a hall-mark of elegance.

Perhaps her son owed more to his mother than has sometimes been
suspected. Corot himself remarked that a skill equal to that of the
painter was often shown by the costumier in the blending of
colours--indeed he went farther, and said as much of a certain
flower-seller of his acquaintance and her bouquet-making. Really, when
one comes to think of it, he may be said to come of artists on both
sides, for if his father was scarcely as much of a hairdresser as we
should like him to be, his paternal grandfather's claim to the
description is beyond criticism.

Under these circumstances it is a little sad that, when he had completed
his educational career without winning any considerable distinction, it
was decided to make a draper of him. There is every evidence that, in so
far as the attempt went, he made a very bad draper indeed. I do not know
how long it took him to come to the conclusion that he would never make
a good one--not very long, I should say--but after a trial of six years
or so, it would seem that his father had arrived at the same conclusion.
When his son declared his intention of abandoning drapery and of
becoming a painter, Corot _père_ did not offer any strenuous objection.
He thought that the young man was a fool, and said so, with possibly a
little bitterness, but on the whole with resignation. What was more to
the point, he made a small provision, so that his son might live while
"amusing himself."

The provision in question was certainly a small one--1500 francs a
year--but it prevented Corot from ever knowing the extremities of
poverty to which some of his brilliant contemporaries were reduced. As
he said, he could always count on "shoes and soup"--and shoes and soup,
if not much in themselves, can often bridge the gulf that lies between
hope, or even content, and despair. Moreover, Corot's wants were few.
Throughout his life he had the simplest tastes, and his only
extravagance was a charity that gave without measure and never thought
about return.

However, figure to yourself Corot fully embarked on his career
as a painter. He is, roughly, twenty-five years of age, and for
stock-in-trade has glowing health, a certain familiarity with pencil and
brush already acquired, an unquenchable enthusiasm, and so many francs a
year. On the whole it is the outfit of a very happy and fortunate young

Once emancipated from the compulsions of drapery he lost no time in
setting to work. He went straight to Nature, and even at this time
produced work that bore a hall-mark as distinctive as that of his later
years. He worked also in the studios of Michallon and of Bertin, and if
they did him no good (and there is little reason to suppose such a
thing), they at least did him no harm. Already he was too keenly engaged
upon a line of his own.

Around Ville d'Avray, where his father had bought a house, he found
numberless subjects ready to his hand, subjects of which nothing that he
saw in his wide wanderings could ever make him tired. He also had an
experience in Morvan. I shall venture to quote from Mr. Everard
Meynell's "Corot and his Friends," concerning it. "He went, presently,
to the little hamlet of Morvan, whose blacksmith gave him hospitality.
As a member of a farrier's numerous family, with the forge for
sitting-room, and its fires to assuage the cold of mortals and of
metals, and soup for fuel, and the blue smock of the country for
raiment, Corot saved money. He saved money out of the 1200 francs of his
allowance; even the cost of canvas and paints did not bring his
expenditure to three francs a day. His austerity meant Rome, but it was
not a hard road for him to follow. Never was a man less provoked to any
of the pampered ways of living."

"It was in Morvan that Corot picked up with the peasant, and found in
him many things fit to be learned. He learnt about soups, and pipes, and
blouses, and the habit of the sunrise; and nothing that he learned did
he forget. Soups, and pipes, and blouses, and the sunrise lasted him
till the end of his life. These things, like the honest humour and
good-comradeship of a man afield, were in his blood; but Morvan and
Morvan's blacksmith, and daily things done with the Morvan peasantry,
developed the peasant in the painter. Corot's was nearer to the
peasant's character than Millet's even; for the emotional gloom of
Millet's outlook, his sense of the price paid for life, his sense of
death and toil, of the significance of the seed and the scythe, made him
a person too great and dreadful to be familiar with those for whom he
thought and felt. Corot's laugh and song, his raillery and content, were
things to be friends with."

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--LE VALLON

"Le Vallon" is probably one of the best-known and most universally
admired of Corot's works. It does not record one of those tender
twilight effects in which, as may be believed, the painter found his
keenest pleasure, but the quiet glory of a golden afternoon. The simple
landscape is bathed in the most wonderful of painted sunshine, and
possesses an extraordinary verity. The material essentials of the scene
are set down with an unerring regard for truth, but it is in
interpreting its "sentiment" that the most notable success has been

I think that in the foregoing passage the influence upon Corot of the
Morvan visit, though it may well have been a memorable one, has been
perhaps a trifle exaggerated. Surely he must have "picked up" with the
peasant long before, and found out how much he had in common with the
dweller on the soil. And will the comparison with Millet fully bear
examination? I doubt it. The extraordinary delicacy and refinement of
Corot's vision is at least a thing as foreign to the peasant as the
tense emotionalism of Millet; and I suspect that the deep-rooted content
of the one was as much removed as the implicit revolt of the other from
the people with whom in their several ways they were both so much in
sympathy. That in personal relations Corot got nearer than Millet to his
peasant friends is more than probable. If not more understandable in
reality, he seemed so in daily intercourse with those as simple and
direct as himself. There was nothing in him to repel. His gay and
expansive nature invited a confidence that was seldom withheld, except
by those too distrustful and secretive themselves to understand it.

The first visit to Italy, undertaken in 1825, marks an epoch in the life
of Corot, as in that of many another painter. But though it widened his
outlook, and taught him much that otherwise he might never have learned,
it did not tempt him to any deviation from the simple principles that
all through his life guided him in the practice of his art. All the
inducements which Italy could offer were not sufficient to make him
incline to use other eyes than his own when painting. He seems to have
treated the Masters in an unusually cavalier manner. Nature in Italy
interested him much more than Art in Italy: he was more concerned with
sunsets than with Michael Angelo.

As was his custom, Corot was always at work in Italy, "sitting down"
with his usual happy knack in finding the right spot, and painting what
he saw as he saw it, with careful fidelity to his own beautiful way of
looking at things. Sometimes he worked from models in his room, but
whether indoors or out, day after day found him painting, painting with
unabated enthusiasm and ever-fresh delight.

And he made friends, as always--among them d'Aligny, who was the first
to take the true measure of the then somewhat awkward young man.
"D'Aligny," says Mr. Everard Meynell, "was the discoverer of his genius
and its advertiser; for having found Corot at work on the 'Vue du
Colisée,' now hanging in the Louvre, he made a formal statement of his
admiration at 'Il Lepre' (a café in Rome much frequented by painters)
that night. 'Corot, who sings songs to you, and to whom you listen or
call out your ribald chaff,' said he, 'might be master of you all!'"

The friendship lasted until the death of d'Aligny in 1874, and Corot
never forgot the generous praise that had so encouraged him during those
early days in Rome.

In 1827 Corot exhibited for the first time in the Salon. The two
pictures which bore his name were not unnoticed, but no one was
sufficiently interested to purchase them. It was indeed fortunate on the
whole that he was assured of "shoes and soup" from other sources than
his art, for it was not until 1840 that it brought him any monetary
reward worth mentioning. But it would be beside the mark to say that he
had to endure any remarkable period of neglect. It must be remembered
that his career as a painter did not seriously begin until he was of an
age when many artists have already secured something of a position for
themselves. His work, too, was not of such a description as to make any
sensational impact upon the attention of the art-loving public.

Before he returned from his first visit to Rome he had, however, made
his mark in some measure, had been hailed by a few discerning critics as
one of the elect. The enthusiastic testimony of d'Aligny and one or two
others had been endorsed with signatures that carried some weight--only
at home was he still held to be an amateur. His right to a place among
the more notable artists of his time was no more questioned, except by
those whom ignorance or prejudice had rendered incapable of sane

Once more, and again, he visited Italy, painting as he went, and what
was much more to the purpose, filling with magic pictures the tablets of
his mind: but I doubt if these subsequent visits carried him far beyond
the point he had arrived at during the first. Each day he was gaining
more knowledge and greater dexterity, but his point of view was never
seriously modified. Italy gave to his delicacy some of its strength,
invested the most tender-hearted of painters with the touch of sternness
that could alone save his work from becoming invertebrate: but it could
not materially alter his habit of vision, or turn into dramatic shape an
inherently lyrical gift. He saw Nature as a song in France first of all
and last of all; Italy only helped him to give the song a more severe
metrical basis than it might otherwise have possessed. Much that was
sweet in Corot it would seem that the relentless landscapes and pitiless
skies of Italy helped to make strong.

From 1840 onwards one may say that Corot was steadily growing into fame.
In that year two of his pictures were bought by public authorities, and
thus, for the first time, an official imprimatur was set upon his
increasing reputation. He never knew the feverish delight of awaking one
morning to find himself famous. The value of his work was only very
slowly recognised, and as his paintings attracted more and more notice a
heavy fire of hostile criticism was opened upon them: with no more
effect than to make him smile as he went upon his way.

Some of these egregious criticisms are so utterly beside the mark that
it is difficult to believe them anything but the result of a wilful
misapprehension on the part of the critics. They seem to be inspired by
venom and spite when read to-day: but in their own time they probably
fairly represented the serious opinions of many who thought they were
defending legitimate art against a spreading anarchy. It is even
possible that such as Nieuwerkerke, who, as Mr. Meynell records, was
"overheard describing Corot as a miserable creature who smeared canvases
with a sponge dipped in mud," honestly believed that he was
administering a well-deserved castigation to a charlatan. It is more
than likely that many of us are making mistakes almost as serious
to-day, so we need not find such an attitude incredible.


Corot at the height of his powers is seen in the "Souvenir d'Italie."
The thousand subtle nuances of exquisite colour in the luminous sky, the
refined drawing and firm painting of the trees, and the happy confidence
revealed by every brush mark upon the canvas, make it one of the most
delightful and, we may say, most "lovable" of its creator's works.]

There were other critics at this same period who were less hampered by
preconceived notions, and came to a very different conclusion than those
who were able to dismiss the whole Nature school with contempt as
"pampered humbugs." Delacroix could see that Corot was not "only a man
of landscapes" but "a rare genius," and he was not alone. Every year, as
one masterpiece after another appeared at the Salon from the
"mud-dauber's" brush, the general body of artists and art-lovers were
more disposed to give him the rank that was his due.

In 1848 Corot was elected one of the judges for the annual exhibition by
his fellow-artists. He himself sent nine pictures, and one of them, a
"Site d'Italie," was purchased by the State. The following year Corot
was again one of the judges, and in 1850 he was elected a member of the
"Jury de Peinture." He had become a personage in the art-world of
France. Already in 1846 he had been decorated with the Cross of the
Legion of Honour, to the astonishment of his worthy father, who could
not in the least understand on what grounds such an honour had been done
to his failure of a son.

The history of Corot's following years there is no necessity to follow
in detail. Like the years which had gone before, they were fulfilled
with happy labour. He journeyed through the length and breadth of
France, to Switzerland, and elsewhere, "finding landscapes" with that
apprehensive eye of his, and recording them on canvas or on paper, or
storing them in the pigeon-holes of a memory that in such matters never
failed him. For the rest the record is one of a continually increasing
appreciation of his work. It started in a very small circle, extending
thence in ever-widening ripples. Almost imperceptibly his fame increased
until he became an acknowledged master.

In view of the sums paid for many of them since, the prices he obtained
for his pictures seem ridiculously small, but there is no reason to
suppose that he was anything but well content with such material rewards
as came his way. Indeed, so much to the contrary, for some time he
looked upon the increasing prices which purchasers were willing to pay
with a mild astonishment and a kind of humorous fear that it was too
good to be true.

The slighting of his earlier work and the laudation excited by the later
had precisely the same effect upon him--that is none at all. If one had
asked him, I think he would have said both alike were out of
perspective. And he would have spoken without any taint of bitterness:
for, from the very first, he was both confident and humble.

Of the man Corot there are many portraits both in pen and pencil, that
help to give an outward shape to the more intimate revelation of
personality to be found in his work.

One of the most interesting is a portrait by the artist of himself as a
young man. He is sitting, a burly, broad-shouldered figure, before his
easel. The face looks out from the canvas square and strong, but the
full-lipped mouth is sensitive, almost tremulous, and betrays the nature
of the man even more surely than the alert eyes; though these eyes, on
the pounce, one may say, and the forehead drawn in the intense endeavour
to _see_--these also tell their own story.

A pen-portrait of later date by Silvestre describes the artist as "of
short but Herculean build; his chest and shoulders are solid as an iron
chest; his large and powerful hands could throw the ordinary strong man
out of the window. Attacked once, when with Marilhat, by a band of
peasants of the Midi, he knocked down the most energetic of them with a
single blow, and afterwards, gentle again and sorry, he said, 'It is
astonishing; I did not know I was so strong.' He is very full-blooded,
and his face of a high colour. This, with the bourgeois cut of his
clothes and the plebeian shape of his shoes, gives him at first sight a
look which disappears in a conversation that is nearly always full of
point, of wit, and matter. He explains his principles with great ease,
and illustrates the method of his art with anything at hand; and that
generally is his pipe. He so loves to talk about his practices in
painting that, a student told me, he will talk in his shorts and with
bare feet for two hours at a stretch without being once distracted by
the cold."

Many photographs are in existence to present to us Corot in his autumn
time. Says M. Gustave Geffroy, examining one of these: "The features are
clearly marked. The brow, high and bare, crowned with hair in the _coup
de vent_ style, is furrowed with lines. His glance goes clear, keen,
direct, from beneath the heavy eyelids. The nose, short and fleshy, is
attached to the cheeks by two strongly marked creases. There is a smile
on the lips, of which the lower is very thick--altogether a good,
intelligent, witty face." In general appearance, I may add, these later
portraits of Corot always remind me of the late Mr. Lionel Brough.

To my mind there is something more in these photographs than M. Geffroy
has called attention to. They are the portraits of a very happy man. A
deep spiritual happiness and content make the old, wrinkled face a
beautiful one. It is the face of one who, to use a lovely old phrase,
"walked with God," and of whom it was said, "_c'est le Saint Vincent de
Paul de la peinture_."

As one of his friends said, Corot was "adorably good." He was a good
son, for all that he found himself unable to fall in with his father's
desire to make him a successful draper: and the fact that "at home" his
outstanding abilities were never recognised, could not in the least
abate the warmth of his family affections. And he was a good friend. He
never forgot a kindness done to him either in word or deed, although his
memory seemed to be singularly incapable of retaining a record of
anything done to his hurt. It has been said, and the argument could be
powerfully supported, that the same qualities that go to the making of a
good friend make a bad enemy. Very likely it is true in ninety-nine
cases out of a hundred: if so the case of Corot was the hundredth. He
seemed to have a natural incapacity to bear malice or retain a sense of
injury. Perhaps he was too simple or too wise; or, maybe, both.

Not less characteristic of Corot than his manner of going about always
with a song on his lips, was his incurable habit of giving. The wonder
is that he ever had anything at all left for himself, that even shoes
and soup did not follow after francs. And very reprehensibly, of course,
he gave to almost every one who had recourse to him, as well as to many
who did not. His generosity was all but indiscriminate, and conducted in
a manner that, it may be supposed, would drive a charity organisation
society to distraction. He was victimised often and knew it, but the
knowledge never dulled the edge of an insatiable appetite. To give was
at once a luxury and a necessity to him, as appears, and he was never so
gay as when he had been indulging himself in this direction rather more
recklessly than usual. "He would paint" (I quote from Meynell), "saying
to himself, 'Now I am making twice what I have just given.' Or, again,
having just emptied his cash drawer, he would take up his easel, saying:
'Now we will paint great pictures. Now we will surprise the
nations.'" Rather a foolish fellow evidently: but "one of God's
fools," as I heard an old priest say of a somewhat similar example.


The "Vue du Colisée" is a reminiscence of Corot's first visit to Rome.
It plainly shows that even in those early days he had obtained a great
mastery of his medium, and could set down with distinction what he so
clearly saw. Though the subject is a big one, it is handled in such a
fashion that simple dignity is its outstanding characteristic. The "Vue
du Colisée" was one of the paintings that first gained for Corot the
high consideration of the more discerning among his artist friends.]

Notwithstanding the love that made the keynote of his character, all the
investigations of the curious have not discovered an "affair of the
heart" in Corot's life story. It is a story to all intents and purposes
without a woman in it: or, if that is saying too much, certainly without
a heroine. There has been some attempt to exalt his relations with
"Mademoiselle Rose" to the level of a romance, but it has failed
completely for want of materials. Mademoiselle Rose was one of his
mother's work girls, and in those early days, when he was but newly
emancipated from the bondage of drapery, she used to come to see him at
his painter-work. She never married, and thirty-five years later Corot
still counted her among his friends, and she visited him from time to
time. It is a little romance of friendship, if you like, it may have
been on the part of Mademoiselle Rose something more--who knows?--but it
cannot count as a Corot love-affair on the evidence that is available.

As far as is known this is the nearest approach to a "love interest" in
the life of the artist. It may have been that he looked upon women too
much with the eye of an artist ever to be able to see them merely as a
man; more probably it was the element of austerity in him that kept him
immune from passion.

With all his intense delight in life and in living, Corot was always
detached; always preserved, as by a religious habit, from actual contact
with the world around him. Through the midst of the follies, the
extravagances, and the vices of Romanticist circles in Paris of the
thirties, he passed without coming to any harm, and characteristically
enough, without losing his regard for some of the wildest of a wild
company. He took part in much of the "fun" that was going on, but though
often in the set he was never of it, and so far as can be judged it did
not influence him, or colour his outlook upon life, in the slightest

I think it was this temperamental detachment, and possibly a sense,
unexpressed even to himself, of being vowed to one particular service,
that prevented Corot from ever "falling in love," as the phrase goes.
Or, to put it another way, his life was so full of his art, that there
was no room within its limits for another dominating interest.

Simple and single-minded, happily pursuing the occupation that of all
others he would have chosen, he made his life a work of art more lovely
than the most beautiful of his paintings. No one can live in such a
world as this for the allotted span and more without becoming
acquainted with grief, but Corot knew none of those searing sorrows
which scorch their way into heart and brain, until they make existence a
burden hardly to be borne. His faith in "the good God," to whom he
looked up with so childlike a confidence, was so complete that sorrow
for him could hold no bitterness; nor, deeply sympathetic as he was, had
it power over an impregnable content and an unfailing serenity.

And he died as he had lived. A few days before his death it is recorded
"that he told one of his friends how in a dream he had seen 'a landscape
with a sky all roses, and clouds all roses too. It was delicious,' he
said; 'I can remember it quite well. It will be an admirable thing to
paint.' The morning of the day he died, the 22nd of February, 1875, he
said to the woman servant who brought him some nourishment, 'Le père
Corot is lunching up there to-day.'"

"It will be hard to replace the artist; the man can never be replaced,"
was one fine tribute to his memory; and another, "Death might have had
pity and paused before cutting short so sweet a life-work."

A sale of some 600 of Corot's works took place in the May and June
following his death. It realised nearly two million francs, or £80,000.
This is, of course, not a fraction of the sum that would be realised
were the same pictures to be put up to auction to-day; but it shows that
his achievement was beginning to be estimated at something approaching
its true value.

Corot's work, of which at one time he was able to boast he had a
"complete collection," is now scattered to the four corners of the
earth. Paris possesses some splendid examples at the Louvre, and there
are many not less admirable distributed among the provincial galleries
of France. America holds a large number in public and private
galleries, and there are in private ownership in this country Corots
sufficient to make a magnificent collection. Lately the National Gallery
has been enriched, by the Salting bequest, with seven fine paintings
from the master's hand, eloquent witnesses alike to his individuality
and variety.

To me it is an added joy, when I stand before a Corot picture, to think
of the gracious personality of its creator. It is almost as if his
eager, happy voice were pointing out the manifold beauties of the
miraculously bedaubed canvas, and recalling the "moment," so certainly
made permanent there.

It is always a "moment" that is seized in Corot's paintings, with the
exception of some of the earliest. Nature is surprised with her fairest
charms unveiled, in a passing emotion, of laughter or of tears. There is
life, movement, the tremble of being, in everything set down. The air is
palpitant with colour, rainbows are dissolved in an atmosphere that
clothes everything in magic and mystery.

Beneath the gay confidence of the painting, subserving the emotion of
the moment, what knowledge is shown in these pictures! These tree forms,
bold and delicate, with such wonderful subtleties of drawing in them,
give more than externals. They reveal a very psychology of trees, the
soul that the artist so plainly saw in everything around him. He was
concerned to set down far more than the details of the scene before him,
not in the least satisfied to be but a reporter. The higher, or, if you
like, deeper verities were what he strove for, and the universal verdict
to-day is that he did not strive in vain.

The figure-painting of Corot is comparatively little known, and it is a
subject of too much importance to attempt to deal with adequately in
small space. An enthusiastic critic claims that it includes the
artist's "absolute masterpieces," but I doubt if many would agree,
beautiful as some of these figures are. They show the same faculty of
apprehending a sudden revelation of beauty as is shown by the more
familiar landscapes, the same exquisite sense of graces in form and
colour, which elude the eyes of most of us. But it is still in landscape
that Corot is supreme.

I have already stated my conviction that he was not greatly influenced
by other artists, his predecessors, or contemporaries. Perhaps
Constable, to mention but one name, helped to open his eyes, but once
open he used them as his own. Again, the classicism which surrounded him
in his youth left gentle memories that in his age were never quite
forgotten; but it was worn as sometimes an elderly gentleman wears a
bunch of seals, and had about as much to do with the essential
personality of the wearer.

He was always true to himself. His equipment was simple faith, definite
purpose, and unflagging zeal. A clear eye, a dream-haunted brain, and a
great loving heart--that was Corot.

The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London

The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh

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