Highly predictable and repetitive…yet great

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“His temper was placid, his character admirable and his long life was unstained by great tragedy or grand vice. It would be easy to write a dull novel about his life. A film would not be a commercial proposition. He was at heart both obstinate and a model of respectability, but never risking much. He had a strong and virtuous character but his personality was on the dull side. He had no real gift for words and yet the paintings he created are some of the most greatly admired in the history of art, even though they were easily faked, and critics said they were ‘highly predictable’ and that he was ‘one of the most repetitive of artists.'”

He was not much interested in money or fame, only work. “The uninhibited pleasure that he took in his work, his unwavering faith in God and nature, and the kindness with which he treated everyone he met were aspects of a character as impressive as it was rare.”

Of course, I’m speaking of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875). As you would know, if you’ve followed me for any length of time, I am a huge fan of Corot; it was his work, way back in college art history class, that has impacted me to this day. (Click images to enlarge)

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot


I actually find it somewhat refreshing to learn of his dull personality and lack of interest in money and fame. What a contrast to today where being famous, rich, and noticed are of great importance…and what people will do to achieve it.

Corot was born amidst changing artistic tastes. He was trained in the formulaic principles of the classical idealized landscape as represented by seventeenth century painters, Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Claude Lorrain (1600-1682). But, a new movement, Romanticism, made for an uneasy combination of “new forces and old prejudices that were in operation at the end of the eighteenth century and during the first quarter of the nineteenth.”

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) – “Landscape with St. James in Patmos” – 39.5″ x 53.68″ – Oil (1640)

Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) – “Landscape with Aeneas at Delos” – 39″ x 53″ – Oil (1672)


“Romanticism was a deep-rooted growth that flourished, and flourished abundantly, but it grew along a trellis of decaying ideas and assumptions left over from the past.” The strong recognition and importance it attached to close observation of nature flew in the face of Corot’s early training which believed that “landscape painting could only achieve the dignity of historical painting when it conformed to the principles of Ideal Beauty and included antique, biblical or mythological figures to give it an heroic quality. In the early nineteenth century the landscape painter was unable to express in a form suitable for the official exhibition and acceptable to a conservative public, all the new attitudes to nature. These, therefore, had of necessity to find an outlet in the preliminary stages of picture-making, which came to assume greater and greater importance for the artist.

Camille Corot – “Civita Castellana” – 3.25″ x 5.5″ – Oil (1860)

Camille Corot – “View of the Farnese Gardens” – 9.5″ x 15.75″ – Oil (1826)

Camille Corot – “The Augustan Bridge at Narni” – 13.25″ x 19″ – Oil (1826)

Camille Corot – “Bridge at Narni” – 27″ x 37″ – Oil (1827) – A more classical rendition of the plein air study, “The Augustan Bridge at Narni” suitable for Salon competition of the day.


“The eighteenth-century landscape painter had little desire to do much serious work out of doors because the formulas, the patterns of design he tended to follow were never meant to provide the actual facts of natural life. In contrast to this, the Romantic Movement began to exalt actual, personal experience in a way that the eighteenth century would have regarded as ill-bred and unformulated.”

Camille Corot – “La Cervara, The Roman Countryside” – 38.5″ x 53.5″ – Oil (1830)

Camille Corot – “Diana and Actaeon” – 61.5″ x 44.25″ – Oil (1836)

Camille Corot – “Fisherman at the River” – 9.25″ x 7.25″ – Oil (1865)


Corot accepted the conditions of his day. We see a difference between his plein air and studio paintings. The plein air paintings are small in size and only looked upon as studies that were seldom shown to others, while his studio works were created for competition and “official” viewing.

To be continued…

Material for this article art excerpted from the book “Corot” by Keith Roberts, published by Spring Art Books, London.


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