Roads and paths are recurring motifs in Corot's work, and from his youth the artist appears to have been particularly fond of lanes that ascend and descend. In contrast to the increasing number of souvenirs Corot painted in the 1860s - silvery poetic reminiscences of a particular place distilled into a picture - the present work is very much set in time and place and, if not painted in the open air, at least based on a plein air sketch made on the spot, in this case a country road near the village of Méry to the east of Paris. The immediacy of the observed light and tonalities is abundantly evident.
Corot was one of the first French landscape painters to make the Forest of Fontainebleau and nearby villages a popular destination for plein air painters. By the 1860s it had become so famous and frequented by artists and tourists alike that Corot preferred other villages on the outskirts of Paris to paint, like Méry, which had remained more authentic. Nevertheless, it was works like the present one that inspired a later generation of French artists, including Camille Pissarro, and provided the foundation for the New Painting that came to be known as Impressionism. Indeed, Pissarro greatly admired Corot, whose work he had known since moving to Paris in 1855. His La route de Rocquencourt (fig. 1) similarly leads the viewer into the picture on a wide path, the surface of which is broken up by long shadows of trees.
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