European
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Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (French, 1796–1875),
Château-Thierry , 1855
oil on canvas, 13¾ x 23 in., 34.9 x 58.4 cm
Museum purchase, 1942.1

The son of Parisian milliners, Corot first worked as a cloth merchant before, at the age of twenty-six, deciding to become a painter. He studied under Jean-Victor Bertin (1767-1842), an academic painter of idealized landscapes, and made several visits to Italy. Corot received official recognition in the 1840s and soon had more landscape commissions than he could handle. He often allowed work by other, needy artists to be sold under his name, a practice that partly explains the old saying: “In his lifetime Corot painted one thousand paintings, three thousand of which are in the United States.” Known to fellow artists as “Père Corot” for his concern for other painters, he is usually linked with the Barbizon School, a group of realist landscape artists based in the small town of Barbizon, forty miles outside Paris. But even at his most realistic, Corot never entirely abandoned the lessons of his classical training, and his landscapes are invariably pervaded by an atmosphere of idyllic calm. 

Painted in mid-career, Château-Thierry clearly reflects the balance Corot achieved between realism and classical form. Organized around a strong diagonal axis that runs from top left to bottom right and bathed in a silvery light, the components of the landscape are simplified and suggested rather than described. The leaves of the large tree silhouetted on the left, barely suggested by light stippling of a soft brush, seem to be moving in the breeze and contrast with the solid line of brightly lit buildings across the river.

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