Lot 4
  • 4

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Estimate
300,000 - 500,000 GBP
Sold
453,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
  • Paysage Breton
  • signed COROT lower left
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

Michel Pascal, Paris (by 1875; his sale: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 1886)
Gadala collection, Paris (by 1905; probably Paul Gadala, who also owned works by Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir)
Alphonse Kann, St. Germain-en-Laye (by 1936)
Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (inv. no. A2738)
Purchased from the above, probably by the father of the present owner; thence by descent

Exhibited

Paris, École Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Exposition de l'oeuvre de Corot, 1875, no. 177 (as Études [sic] de Bretagne avec figures)
Paris, Galeries Rosenberg, Grands Maîtres du XIXe siècle, 1922, no. 20
Prague, S.V.U Mánes, 1923, no. 54
London, New Burlington Galleries, Masters of French 19th Century Painting, 1936, no. 14 (as Brittany Landscape)
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (on intermittent loan from 2011 - 2017)

Literature

Théophile Silvestre, Histoire des artistes vivants, français et étrangers, peintres, sculpteurs, architectes, graveurs, photographes: études d'après nature, Paris, 1853, n. p., a photograph of the work by Victor Laisné illustrated (as Vue Prise A Ville-D'Avray (Environs de Paris) [sic]) 
Paul Mantz, 'Corot', in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1 July 1861, p. 425, an engraving by Eugène Lavieille after the painting  illustrated (as Environs de Paris); p. 431, discussed
Arsène Alexandre, 'Essai sur Corot', in Le monde moderne, Tome IV, Paris, 1896, p. 188, illustrated (as Paysage en Bretagne)
Alfred Robaut, L'Œuvre de Corot: Catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris, 1905, vol. II, p. 178, no. 477, catalogued (as Paysage Breton - Une Paysanne et ses enfants assis au bord d'un sentier sous les arbres); p. 179, illustrated
Elie Faure, Corot, Paris, 1931, pl. 43, illustrated (as Paysage Breton)

Catalogue Note

Dated circa 1840-50 by Robaut, Paysage breton reveals Corot as a master of light and landscape. Supported by the work’s vertical format, the rhythmic, parallel birch tree trunks lend the scene a powerful sense of spatial recession, the architectural composition as sophisticated as any in the artist’s oeuvre. Within this structure is a subtle exploration of tonal contrasts, painted with great naturalness and sensitivity. Strips of dappled light fall across the undulating ground, as the eye is drawn through the scene to a clearing beyond. While the contrast between light and shade is one of the composition’s most notable features, closer inspection reveals such subtle details as the lilac of the backlit foliage in the upper centre, establishing Corot as the leading precursor of Impressionism.

Exhibited in the Corot retrospective in the year of the artist’s death, the present work’s importance was recognised by prominent critics writing during Corot’s lifetime. Reproducing the work in an engraving, Paul Mantz discussed it along with others such as The Harbour of La Rochelle, now in the Yale University Art Gallery:

'These canvases...are endlessly remarkable by their precise use of local colour, the sincerity of the accent and the rightness of the harmonies, a skill which M. Corot has mastered to perfection, and which words cannot do justice. The most gifted musicians cannot bring out the nuances of a melody more subtly than him.'

Curiously, while both early authors identified the subject as being near Paris, and one claimed it was Ville d’Avray (one of Corot’s most frequent subjects), in the catalogue of the 1875 retrospective and onwards the subject is said to be Brittany. Corot first visited Brittany in June-August of 1829 and returned on numerous occasions thereafter, including to Mûr-de-Bretagne in 1845. The composition itself offers little in the way of landmarks, however the seated woman wears a distinctively Breton lace coif hat. In his Breton views Corot was inspired by the same wooded, somewhat remote and rugged landscape which drew him to the Morvan in western Burgundy, from which his father's family hailed.

In its verticality, depth and composition, Paysage breton can be seen as a more naturalistic (and arguably more successful) counterpart to Corot’s mythological Silène, exhibited at the Salon of 1838. Monumental in size, the Minneapolis work is regarded as Corot’s work most influenced by Poussin, as he doggedly battled for recognition and official honours at the Salon. More intimate in scale and conception, in Paysage breton Corot integrated his figures more successfully into a composition which looks ahead to the modern view of landscape rather than back to the old masters. As Etienne Moreau-Nelaton noted, Corot’s role as the hinge between these two great French landscape traditions is central to an understanding of his work: ‘Corot never broke with tradition…he accomplished this tour de force by being at the same time the last of the classical landscapists and the first of the Impressionists’.
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