Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796 Paris - 1875 Paris)
Oil on canvas ; signed "Corot" at the lower left ; 24.1 x 28.8 cm
L'Isle Adam, anonymous sale, 5th April 1891 ; Versailles, Bercy collection ; Switzerland, private collection (in 1930) ; New York, Sotheby's after sale, 8th November 2013.
Alfred Robaut, L'Œuvre de Corot. Catalogue raisonné et illustré, vol. III, Paris, L. Laget, 1965, no. 1320 (reproduced).
According to Alfred Robaut, friend of the artist and author of the first catalog raisonné, which dates it to the 1860s, this painting was given by Corot to his foster sister, Julie Langlois. In excellent condition, it has kept all the freshness of the touch and the vivacity of the color. The composition, atypical, evokes the boldness of the next generation and particularly Cézanne's Carrière de Bibemus (The Quarry at Bibémus - Essen, Folkwang Museum).
The site, the vegetation, the sandstone slabs, the clayey sand path, are typical of the forest of Fontainebleau. Corot, from the time of his apprenticeship with Achille-Etna Michallon (1796-1822), was accustomed to painting in the open air. In 1836, Théodore Rousseau moved there and brought with him the painters of the Barbizon school, towards which, as towards Impressionism later, Corot kept a friendly and dreamy distance.
He was interested only in the subject, not in the theory. From an isolated oak tree that spreads its branches over a stony heap, from a sparse birch tree at the bottom of a steep path, from the sky that scrolls like a scenery, and even from the sun that lights them up and cuts them up, he creates a theater scene. This masterpiece of plein air painting, in its assurance and spontaneity, is also a beautiful moment of lyricism.
In those years, between 1864 and 1869, Flaubert wrote L'Éducation sentimentale. Frédéric and his companion Rosanette are walking in the forest of Fontainebleau : "A painter in a blue coat was working at the foot of an oak tree, with his paint box on his knees". And suddenly the writer seems to confront this painter : "rough, enormous oaks, which convulsed (...) rocks forming vague animal shapes (...) the sands, struck by the sun, dazzled him". Magic of the correspondence of the arts, and testimony of a time when thanks to the railroad, the art and the bourgeoisie, leave the living rooms and explore the countryside.