Corot's paintings of Mantes, situated thirty miles west of Paris, are not as well-known as his early Italian views or his Ville d'Avray landscapes, however they formed an important part of his output beginning in the early 1840s which continued into the 1860s.
Our painting is considered Corot's earliest view of the Gothic cathedral in Mantes, visible beyond the bridge and through the trees. While Alfred Robaut assigned a date of 1845, Corot included the old north portal of the church, which was demolished that year; therefore an earlier date would be more accurate (Rodolphe Walter, "Jean-Baptiste Corot et la cathedrale restaurée," Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 67 (April 1966), pp. 217-28). In fact, the first owner of our painting, François-Parfait Robert, was Corot's host during his visits to the town. In 1842, Corot painted an elaborate decorative cycle for the bathroom in Robert's house (Robaut 435-440), and most likely our view of the bridge and cathedral was painted during that visit. Additionally, the painting resembles Corot's works painted in the Morvan region in the early 1840s (Robaut 425-434). This was a short lived, but very creative period for Corot. The Morvan works, as well as the present painting, are usually set in wide angles, and convey a sense of drama created through sharp contrasts of lights and darks. The trees in the Morvan forests, as they do in our view of the Seine at Mantes, twist and turn and overlap. The following commentary on a Morvan subject (Robaut 428) in the catalogue of the 1996 Corot retrospective, could just as aptly be applied to our view of Mantes, "The treatment of light, the invariably original compositions – occasionally in unusual wide formats – the inclusion of figures, and the overwhelming sense of a direct perception of nature place them among his [Corot's] most interesting creations." (G. Tinterow, M. Pantazzi and V. Pomarède, p. 190).
Corot returned to Mantes on several occasions in the 1860s. The view of the cathedral as seen through the trees still held an attraction, but his style had changed (fig.1). The rugged directness of 1842 had been replaced by a mood of peace and contentment - the idyll - of Corot's later years.
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