Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chartres Cathedral, West Facade (1830)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Chartres Cathedral, West Facade

One of Corot's first masterpieces, Chartres Cathedral was painted in 1830, a few months after the artist's return from Italy. Still suffused with the light of that country, this work, with its clear tones and visual objectivity, is perfectly laid out and soundly structured. Corot's concern with the architecture is clear, but he has chosen an odd composition, with the mound and the stacked stones in the foreground. Partly taken from life, the painting was considerably reworked forty-two years later by Corot, who enlarged it when it was being relined and added the small figure at bottom left.

The viewer is immediately struck by the composition of the painting. The "vacant lot" with its three trees, slabs of stone, and houses is in marked contrast with the sheer size of the cathedral and its spires. If we block out the spires, the building fits with the overall scale, but otherwise everything seems out of proportion. This was the criticism Corot himself made in 1872, his attempt at a solution being the addition of the child seated on a block of stone in the foreground. [Louvre]

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