JEAN-BAPTISTE CAMILLE COROT 

THE FOREST OF FONTAINEBLEAU - THE PLATEAU BRÛLÉ

1796 Paris - 1876
Paper laid down on canvas
25 x 32 cm
C
irca 1850-1855

 

Essay

Born to a wealthy family of traders, in the spring of 1822, the young Corot entered the studio of Achille Michallon (1796-1822), a painter of the same age, who was already well-known and in contact with influential patrons.

Michallon introduced and trained Corot in the art of the classical landscape. After Michallons death, which occurred very prematurely in September 1822, Corot entered the atelier of Jean-Victor Bertin. Following on the footsteps of his masters, both former pupils of Valenciennes, Corot endeavoured in the practice of enplain airpainting. From 1825 to 1829 Corot completed his training in Italy.

A fairly itinerant painter, Corot also resided in Switzerland, the Netherlands and England. His art was strongly influenced by that of the Dutch masters of the 17thcentury, as well as by his visits to Italy and his own artistic drive. He affirmed himself as painter via his submissions to the Salon, where he exhibited his mythological and Biblical compositions and his paintings of the landscapes of Italy — where he returned in 1834 and 1843 — and of Ville-d’Avray.

The forest of Fontainebleau, whose popularity eclipsed that of Normandy for a while, and whose name was given to a group of artists who consistently worked there, was very familiar to him since the early days of his career. He first painted there with Michallon in the summer of 1822, and he since revisited it regularly with his comrades Bertin and d’Aligny, who were loyal and recurrent visitors of the forest. The forest of Fontainebleau enabled Corot to experiment in the plein air technique. The studies he realised, in which the artist tried to convey the beauty and emotions that are expressed by nature, strongly contributed to the landscapes which he later painted in the studio.

Our painting, titled The Forest of Fontainebleau - At the plateau brûlé and painted between 1850 and 1855 according to Robaut, constitutes one of the most vigorous studies that Corot executed in the forest of Fontainebleau. Here, the technical concerns and interests of the artist are palpable: he displays a treatment of light and a rigorous and realistic imitation of the rocks and the earth which, being rendered via the depiction of dense volumes, recall his studies of Italian landscapes. Indeed, at Fontainebleau, Corot looked for the sturdy size and the architectonic force of the blocks of rock which are reminiscent of those of the Sabine hills. Just as in The Quarry of Chaise-Marie at Fontainebleau (ill. 1), the cracked earth and the pile of fallen rocks control the entire composition, ultimately creating the space for their own volumes. These studies confirm the impact that the geological peculiarities of Fontainebleau had on the painter. Because of this, the sheer disorder of nature discloses as much luminous vitality, sculptural richness and monumental harmony as an architectural study.

The sky of an intense blue is juxtaposed to the green foliage of the trees in the background and to the delicate selection of greys, browns and ochres which the artists used for the depiction of the earth. As in his Italian studies and in other sketches painted in the forest of Fontainebleau, like for instance, Oak Trees at Bas-Préau(ill. 2), Corot preferred a rapid and synthetic brushstroke for the representation of the elements in the foreground, and the depiction of a pure and direct light. The resulting high quality of the paintings on the motif painted by the artist were highly appreciated by his contemporaries. The painter ultimately managed to translate, with very little means, the atmosphere of the place. In our study we find “the harmonious simplicity, the modest charm and the naive awkwardness” that critics praised in Corot’s œuvre. With this painting the artist delivered an evocation of the love for nature itself in which there are no elements which hinder the spontaneity of his first observation. As he grew as an artist, Corot attained in his small and fairly unvaried sketches a balance and spontaneity which is unprecedented in the history of landscape painting.

 


Provenance

Private Collection.
Catalogue de tableaux et études par Corot composant la collection de Prévost, Sale, Paris, 24 May 1887, lot 20.

Literature

Alfred Robaut, L’œuvre de Corot, Catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris, Léonce Laget, 1965, n°893, repr. p. 284.

ill. 1 : Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
The Quarry of Chaise-Marie at Fontainebleau
Oil on paper laid on canvas
33,8 x 59 cm
Gand, musée des Beaux-Arts.

ill. 2 : Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
Oak Trees at Bas-Préau, 1832-1833
Oil on paper
39,7 x 49,5 cm
New-York, Metropolitan Museum.