I’m sitting here with the 1889 edition of The Art Journal. Published in London by J.S. Virtue & Co. Limited, this thick seven pound 13″x 10.5″ volume is elegant in its writing, beauty, quality of printing, and fine art reproductions

While in England many years ago visiting family, I stumbled upon three editions of The Art Journal in my uncle’s house. To me, it was like finding a precious gemstone  on the beach. Expressing my delight in discovering these books, my uncle kindly offered them to me. They are the most cherished of my art books.

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What caught my attention in this volume was an article on Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, by Mr. R.A.M. Stevenson, and I want to share some of his comments from the article

 

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The most important Victorian magazine on art in England was the Art Union Monthly Journal, founded in 1839 by Hodgson & Graves. In 1848, Mr. George C. Virtue purchased the magazine and renamed it The Art Journal. The journal eventually became the premier art publication in Great Britain, and by the time he retired in 1855, Mr. Virture had published  more than 20,000 copper and steel engravings of various works of art.

The journal became known for its honest portrayal of fine art. Under the editorship of Samuel Hall, the journal exposed the profits that custom-houses were earning from the import of Old Masters, particularly of Raphael and Titian, that were actually fakes…having been manufactured in England. In their desire to alert people to these misrepresented works, they created much skepticism and caution among the buying public which in turn greatly affected the art market.

I think it interesting that The Art Journal took a strong stand against fakes in the art market, and yet, one of my very favorite artists, Mr. Corot, probably has more fake copies of his paintings in the world than most. I’m sure the journal would have been repulsed by that fact. Early on, the journal strongly supported The Clique, a group of English artists that rejected Academic high art in favor of genre painting. They felt the academic ideals had become stagnant and believed art should be judged by the public, not by its conformity to some academic standard.

James Sprent Virtue picked up publishing duties after his father’s retirement, but by 1880, the journal faced strong competition from the Magazine of Art and changing public taste, influenced by Impressionism. The Art Journal was last published in 1912.

"The Augustan Bridge at Narni" - 13.39" c 18.9" - Oil  (1826)

“The Augustan Bridge at Narni” – 13.39″ c 18.9″ – Oil   (1826)

 

It’s hard for me to explain why I am so drawn to Corot. From the first day I became aware of his work in a college art history class, I was hooked. Primarily, of course, it’s emotional. One’s emotional response to a painting is influenced by subject, mood, composition, etc. Corot’s paintings are powerful, in the same way a whisper in the ear might be in a noisy room. There is an undeniable harmony, balance and perfection in his work. Critics have said it’s like poetry. I am attracted to his magnificent use of gray, to the embracing peaceful, quiet of his paintings. Among the screaming paintings of today, Corot enters the room quietly, almost unnoticed. There’s a certain humility in that which is appealing to me.

Another reason I like Corot is because he got a late start, age 26…and I relate to that.

"Diana Surprised at Her Bath" - 61.68" x 44.38" - Oil  (1836)

“Diana Surprised at Her Bath” – 61.68″ x 44.38″ – Oil   (1836)

"The Italian Goatherd" - 32.38" x 24.68" - Oil  (1847)

“The Italian Goatherd” – 32.38″ x 24.68″ – Oil   (1847)

 

Corot was a great man in a great century. He broke new ground both as a picture-maker, and as an observer of facts…and now, let’s hear what Mr. Stevenson has to say, quoted from his article of 1889:

“I think Corot’s marvelously clear good sense, his long course of early carefulness, the slow growth of his style, and, above all, its sole foundation on nature, prevented him, when he once attained the expression of his own ideas, from ever feeling that doubt of his style and that uneasy wish to turn back and see if nothing has been left behind.”

"A Village Near Beauvais" - 15.75" x 11.8" - Oil  (1855)

“A Village Near Beauvais” – 15.75″ x 11.8″ – Oil   (1855)

 

“Corot had been taught by the men of the Classic school, men rigid in drawing, rigid in their rejection of any facts outside the beat of Poussin and the ancients, rigid too in their devotion to formal arrangement, in a word, sticklers for convention.”

“Corot was conscientious in his purpose of modelling the large masses perfectly, and of suggesting the smaller detail only so far as he could do it without sacrifice of what is greater.”

"Wooded Peninsula" - Oil  (1868)

“Wooded Peninsula” – Oil   (1868)

 

“Some have argued that Corot lacked the gift of colour, proclaiming him merely a “tonist”. That belief is a total misapprehension of the aims and merits of modern painting. People who cannot call a man a colorist unless he knocks them on the head with red, blue, and yellow, are, of course, justified in their taste, though wrong in their principles of criticism.”

“Corot was quite sincere in his intention to render the open air, and surely no one denies the reality of open air colours, or that they are as beautiful, subtle, varied as the pigments in a colour box or the stuffs in a draper’s shop.”

“Corot works on a composition made of broad, simply arranged, large masses. These he surrounds and overlays with a lovely lace-work of light branches and floating leaves.”

"A Shady Resting Place" - 18.5" x 15" - Oil  (1873)

“A Shady Resting Place” – 18.5″ x 15″ – Oil   (1873)

 

“So much for Corot’s realism; there is also a decorative beauty in his art, consonant with, and, to my mind, inseparable from, his view of the world. One dare not say how much of his beauty is, as it were, realism sublimed. Your eye embraces his pictures in their entirety and nothing distracts or worries the attention. A great part of this unity, this harmony, comes from his logical and consistent rendering of atmosphere, the result of his most unusually complete grasp of the field of vision as a whole. Yet we may detect a residuum that is pure style distinguished from observation of nature.”

 

For other articles  on Corot, please click the links below

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot speaks

Corot: Early landscapes

Corot: Later landscapes

Corot: Figurative works

John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his art and bio, please click HERE