Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ville d'Avray (1873)

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot: Ville d'Avray - Le Cavalier à la entrée du bois

During the last years of his life, public affection for Corot had deepened. His popularity had not waned and collectors and dealers alike waited impatiently for his paintings to dry so they could be released from the artist's studio. At the Salon, he continued to be a success, although now that he was either on the jury or served hors concours, his works were automatically accepted. The reviewers of the Salons wrote long elegies on the 'poet of the landscape'.

Corot had become the grand old man of French painting. Young painters such as Berthe Morisot sought out his instruction and approval. Camille Pissarro described himself in his entries to the Salon as 'student of Corot' in an effort to win more respect from his contemporaries and many others did the same. And unexpectedly, Corot was adopted by the critics of the New Painting: Emile Cola, Theodore Duret and Edmond Duranty all considered Corot to be the progenitor of Impressionism. At one time or another, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre Auguste Renoir all experimented with Corot's method and technique.

In Ville d'Avray - Le chevalier à l'entrée du bois, Corot deftly captures the effect of the diffuse, pale sunlight. The figure and his horse merge into the landscape and are in complete harmony with their surroundings. The critic Edmund About wrote: 'No artist has more style or can better communicate his ideas in a landscape. He transforms everything he touches, he appropriates everything he paints, he never copies, and even when he works directly from nature, he invents. As they pass through his imagination, objects take on a vague and delightful form. Colors soften and melt; everything becomes fresh, young and harmonious. One can easily see that air floods his paintings, but we will never know by what secret he manages to paint air.' (Quoted in G. Tinterow, Corot, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, exhibition catalogue, pp. 236-237).

Corot has deftly combined all of the elements of his style into Ville d'Avray - Le chevalier à l'entrée du bois, and he uses his unique ability to portray light to bind these elements into a cohesive whole. A figure on horseback, his back to the viewer, makes his way down a sun-dappled path heading to a forest. A woman, perhaps a faggot gatherer taking a rest from her back breaking work, is seated to the side of the road and watches the rider approach. The path is lined by silvery toned birch trees which filter the sunlight onto the sandy path. In the distance, the village peeks through the trees that surround it, hinting at the rider's destination.

With a palette of grays, greens, browns and white, Corot has captured the essence of a late afternoon on the edge of a forest. The silence is palpable, the serenity complete. Overhead, patches of blue sky are punctuated by bright clouds. Through his palette and his ability to capture nature's subtleties, Corot has told the viewer that it is late afternoon in summer. [Christie’s]

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