Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

John Florens | Apr 24, 2023

Table of Content


Camille Corot, born Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot on July 16, 1796 in Paris where he died on February 22, 1875, was a French painter and engraver.

For a long time he was considered an amateur painter who had the leisure to travel not only all over France, but also in Italy, where he lived three times. During his travels, he painted idyllic landscapes, usually with small figures, according to the rules of classical landscape. Known for his philanthropy, he was also one of the founders of the Barbizon school.

Youth and formative years

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot was born on July 16, 1796 at number 125 rue du Bac in Paris. Corot came from a family of wealthy merchants: his mother, Marie Françoise Corot (1768-1851), née Oberson, was the daughter of a Swiss from the Château de Versailles, and his father, Jacques Louis Corot (1771-1847), had inherited his father-in-law's wig-making store before working alongside his wife. The Corots became fashion merchants and ran a well-known store at the corner of Rue du Bac and Quai Voltaire in Paris, supplying the Duchess of Orleans under the Restoration. The Corots had two more children, Annette Octavie (1793-1874) and Victoire Anne (1797-1821) who lived upstairs above the store.

Corot studied at the Letellier boarding school in Paris (1803-1807), then at the Pierre-Corneille high school in Rouen (1807-1812). On Sundays, he was welcomed by friends of his parents, the Sennegons, from whom he learned to love nature, a family whose son, Laurent Denis Sennegon, married the painter's sister in 1817. After leaving the Lycée de Poissy in 1815, his father placed him with two cloth merchants in Paris (Ratier, rue de Richelieu, where the new apprentice turned out to be such a poor salesman that his boss employed him as a messenger boy, and in 1817 Delalain, rue Saint-Honoré). But the young man had no taste for commerce, and took drawing classes at the Charles Suisse Academy on the Quai des Orfèvres in the evening. In 1822, when his father wanted to "establish" him by offering him a business to take over the family business, he finally convinced his parents to allow him to pursue a career as a painter, by obtaining from them an annual pension of 1,500 livres (which had previously benefited his sister who died in 1821). His parents' affluence protected him from need, but in return he remained dependent on them until their death. He could now rent a studio on the Quai Voltaire and use it as his studio.

In the spring of the same year, he entered the studio of the landscape painter Achille Etna Michallon (1796-1822), not much older than him, who had just returned from Rome, where he had won the Grand Prix de Rome for historical landscape in 1817. Michallon taught Corot the principles of neoclassicism and encouraged him to work outdoors. From this time on, Corot produced numerous pencil drawings in which he introduced relief and the play of light. Michallon took him with him to discover Marlotte, a village that was to become the basis of the Marlotte group, bringing together painters who distanced themselves from those of Barbizon. But he died a few months later, and Corot continued his training with Jean-Victor Bertin, who had Michallon as a pupil, and who, like Michallon, taught Corot the science of neoclassical composition and historical landscape. Both his masters were pupils and emulators of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, one of the precursors of modern landscape who encouraged his pupils to paint studies in the open air which they then used to compose their paintings. It was in this vein that Bertin encouraged him to go and work in the forest of Fontainebleau. Corot was one of the first painters to work in the village of Barbizon. He also painted in the Seine valley and on the coast of the English Channel.

The relationship between classical ideals and the observation of nature, itself inherited from the teaching of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, was to remain fundamental throughout his career.

The beginning of a career

Since the eighteenth century, the trip to Italy is part of the Grand Tour, training of any young artist. Corot was already familiar with Italian landscapes, which he had copied from the paintings brought back from Italy by his master Michallon. It was therefore quite natural that he asked his parents to finance his first trip. Between 1825 and 1828, he stayed in Rome, Naples and Venice. During this stay, he met another neoclassical landscape painter, Théodore Caruelle d'Aligny, a precursor of the Barbizon school. He went to Italy a second time in 1834 (Tuscany, Venice), and again in 1843.

Corot also traveled relentlessly through the French provinces in search of landscapes that he painted for pleasure and for the visual enrichment they brought him: if he began to exercise his talents as a young painter in Ville-d'Avray, near Paris, where his parents owned a house, he frequently went, between 1830 and 1845, to Normandy, to the home of his friends the Sennegons, but also to Auvergne, Provence, Burgundy, Brittany (to the home of his pupil and friend Charles Le Roux, at Pasquiaud in Corsept), to Charente, to the Morvan (in particular to Lormes), as well as to Switzerland. Most of the time, he stayed with friends who were painters or clothiers.

He painted mainly landscapes, but was also happily interested in architecture (The Cathedral of Chartres, 1830). But these paintings are for him only studies, which he does not consider exhibiting. They were intended to be reused in more ambitious compositions of a historical, mythological or religious nature, the only ones worthy, according to the neoclassical ideal, of being presented to the public.

Corot entered the Salon for the first time in 1835 with a large painting entitled Hagar in the Desert, an illustration of an episode from Genesis, which was favorably received. In the following years, Corot participated regularly in the Salon, alternating religious and mythological themes. From this time on, he attracted the attention of his contemporaries and often their admiration. However, Corot proved difficult to classify, and escaped the schools: if the "moderns", seduced by his treatment of the landscape, regretted his obstinate attachment to neoclassical themes, the neoclassicals, for their part, regretted the realistic treatment of his trees and rocks.


From the 1850s onwards, Corot's fame grew, and the public and dealers began to take an interest in him. With his parents gone (his mother in 1851, his father in 1847), he found himself both more financially independent and free of family constraints.

He continued to travel, visiting the Dauphiné with the painter and friend Daubigny, with whom he painted in Auvers-sur-Oise. Corot went regularly to Arras and Douai, to Constant Dutilleux and his two sons-in-law Charles Desavary and Alfred Robaut, with whom he had become friends. With Dutilleux, he learned the technique of the glass plate, of which he produced about sixty copies. He made several trips to the Limousin, notably to Saint-Junien, on the banks of the Glane, a site that now bears his name, and to Mas Bilier, near Limoges, at the home of one of his friends. He often stopped at the place called "Rocher de Sainte Hélène", property of the Pagnoux family, to have a drink.

From 1850 onwards, he was more and more attracted to painting in which he gave free rein to his imagination, abandoning the accuracy of the landscape painted "on the ground", which he reshaped to his liking, and renouncing historical accounts, which were no longer more than a pretext for dreamy landscapes bathed in silver or golden halos. The theme of "memory" becomes preponderant in his work, mixing the reminiscences of a site and the emotions that remain associated in the memory of the painter. Canvases such as Matinée, Danse des Nymphes, Souvenir de Marcoussis or the famous Souvenir de Mortefontaine follow one another.

In 1862-1863, he stayed in Saintes and participated, with Gustave Courbet, Louis-Augustin Auguin and Hippolyte Pradelles in an open-air workshop called "the Port-Berteau group" after the name of the beautiful site on the banks of the Charente (in the commune of Bussac-sur-Charente) adopted for their joint painting sessions. The culmination of the fruitful convergence between the four artists was a collective exhibition of 170 works presented to the public on January 15, 1863 at the Saintes town hall.

In 1846, he was made a knight of the Legion of Honor for his work, and was promoted to officer in 1867. However, his friends, considering that he had not been officially recognized for his work (he had not received the first class medal at the Salon), offered him their own medal in 1874, shortly before his death.

During the last years of his life, Corot earned large sums of money from his paintings, which were in great demand. His generosity was proverbial: in 1871, he gave 20,000 francs to the poor of Paris, who were under siege by the Prussians. In 1872, he bought a house in Valmondois, which he offered to Honoré Daumier, who had become blind and destitute. In 1875, he gave 10 000 francs to the widow of Jean-François Millet to help her raise her children. His generosity is not a legend. He also helped financially a center for underprivileged youth, rue Vandrezanne, in Paris.

Retired to Coubron in autumn 1874, where the remains of the famous Bondy forest are located, and, suffering from stomach cancer, Corot returned on January 25, 1875. He remained bedridden, and died in Paris on February 22, 1875 at 11:00 am, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, at 56 rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière. He is buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery (division 24).

A white marble fountain decorated with a bronze medallion sculpted by Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume, inaugurated on May 27, 1880, borders the eastern bank of the new pond of Ville-d'Avray.

Corot is sometimes called "the father of impressionism". However, this is an assessment that must be qualified.

His research on light, his predilection for working on the motif and for landscapes seized on the spot anticipate Impressionism. But Corot feared upheavals, in art as in politics, and he remained faithful all his life to the neoclassical tradition in which he had been trained. If he deviated from it, towards the end of his career, it was to abandon himself to imagination and sensitivity in memories, which announced symbolism as much or more than impressionism. Corot, inspired by Nicolas Poussin and Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, painted his studies in the open air, which he never exhibited. He painted his pictures in his studio and then, from the 1850s onwards, painted pictures of memories made of reminiscences.

To make Corot the "father of Impressionism" thus seems to be risky, notably because the Impressionist movement developed largely outside of him, even in spite of him, even if he was not entirely foreign to it; and too little, because Corot built up a work rich and varied enough to touch on all the currents of his time. Corot in fact made the transition between neoclassical painting and plein air painting.

Corot himself influenced a great number of French painters. Louis Carbonnel wrote to his wife in 1921: "Without Corot, there would be no Gadan or Carbonnel. There would be no light.

Corot is best known as a painter of landscapes, but he is also the author of many portraits (close-up or fantasy figures).

He works fast, with quick and wide strokes, and plays on the light, thanks to a great observation.

Since his lifetime, forgeries of Corot have appeared (forgers, pasticheurs, not to mention the replicas by Corot himself or his works that he lent to his students, colleagues or friends so that they could copy them) which give credence to the legend according to which he would be the artist who holds the record for the greatest number of forgeries: having painted nearly 3,000 paintings (and as many drawings and engravings) during his lifetime, 10,000 signed versions of the painter would exist in American collections. The collection of Dr. Edouard Gaillot or Dr. Jousseaume are good examples. Jousseaume's collection included 2,414 Corot forgeries amassed throughout the collector's life: exhibited as authentic in 1928 in London, they were even published in an illustrated catalog despite the Catalogue raisonné et illustré des œuvres de Corot, a reference work by Alfred Robaut and Étienne Moreau-Nélaton published in 1905.

His signature in capital letters, "COROT", is deliberately easy to reproduce, hence the numerous false attributions, involuntary or intentional, due to his popularity on the art market which, during the 20th century, saw hundreds of new works signed by the painter appearing every year. Thus, it is difficult to find a fine arts museum in France that does not exhibit one of his paintings. Moreover, Corot did not hesitate to retouch or rework the paintings of his students in a pedagogical concern ("studio work" common in early painting) and, to help some painters in misery, sometimes signed their paintings.

Jules Michelin was his appointed engraver. Alfred Robaut has listed all of Corot's paintings, but 300 are considered lost.

Among the most famous works, we can mention, chronologically:

In Algeria

Corot's students included painters traditionally associated with Impressionism, or considered pre-impressionist, such as:

A medal bearing Corot's effigy, "a token of admiration for his work," was commissioned by his friends and admirers from the sculptor Adolphe-Victor Geoffroy-Dechaume in 1874. A copy is kept in Paris at the Carnavalet Museum (ND 205).

In the 16th arrondissement of Paris, the street Corot bears his name.


  1. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
  2. Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
  3. ^ "Corot, Camille". Lexico UK English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on 2022-08-27.
  4. ^ "Corot". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 10 August 2019.
  5. "C'est rue du Bac que naquit notre grand Corot, le 16 juillet 1796 (28 messidor an IV). On l'appela Jean-Baptiste-Camille. Il porta habituellement le dernier de ces prénoms" Corot raconté par lui-même, Etienne Moreau Nelaton, 1905
  6. a b c d et e Jean Leymarie, Corot - Étude biographique et critique, Genève, Skira 1966.
  7. AD 78, 1112505 : Registres des baptêmes de la paroisse Notre-Dame de Versailles (année 1768), vue 87, 15 décembre 1768, acte de baptême de Marie Françoise Oberson.
  8. AN, MC LVIII, 583 : Contrat de mariage de Jacques Louis Corot et Marie Françoise Oberson (5 mai 1793).
  9. ^ Tinterow, pp. 7-8.
  10. ^ Galassi, p. 11.
  11. ^ Tinterow, p. 414.
  12. ^ Tinterow, p. 20.
  13. ^ Tinterow, p. 145.
  14. ^ a b c d „Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot”, Gemeinsame Normdatei, accesat în 26 aprilie 2014
  15. ^  Lipsește sau este vid: |title= (ajutor)
  16. ^ a b Camille Corot, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, accesat în 9 octombrie 2017

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