Salon of 1864
“One day,“ said Corot, “I allowed myself to do something ‘chic‘, leaving my brush to his will; when it was over, I was remorseful and could not close my eyes all night. As soon as it was light, I ran to my canvas, and with rage I scraped all my work from the night before with my nails. As my flourishes disappeared, I felt my consciousness become calmer, and once the sacrifice was made, I breathed more freely, because I felt rehabilitated in my own eyes.“
All Corot is in this anecdote, who shows it to us as he was, having devoted to art an exclusive worship, painting the trees with the same religious emotion which the Italian primitives put to paint, in the calm retreat of the cloister, their ideal Madonnas; each of his paintings is a hymn vibrating to nature. It is this quality that does its superior work.
A Corot does not dazzle to attract attention; but when once we have seen him, we can no longer detach ourselves from him, and the surrounding becomes vulgar. One enters with him in a sanctuary, from which the noisy crowd is excluded, one listens to the silence, one enjoys an adorable tranquility.
Corot knew how to seize the least beauties of what was offered to him. Where his comrades found nothing to paint, he discerned unsuspected landscapes and painted magnificent canvases. He possessed an incomparable faculty of vision. “Nature,” he was fond of saying, “is an eternal beauty.” No painter, at any time, has so high a bearing on the art of expressing this sovereign beauty of things.
“The painting of Corot is soft, without shocks or bright contrasts, the marriage of tones is pushed so far that the pure tone is weakened in infinite nuances in a perfect harmony, but almost monochrome and slightly veiled. These pictures do not jump quickly; a kind of gray smoke, vapors or dust, creeps on the ground, envelops the trees, passes slowly over the water, dulls the rays of light. Let’s tear this light veil: immense depths where everything is bathed in transparent shadows and warm light open to our delighted eyes, which makes the artist say: “To get into my painting, you have to have less the patience to let the fog flee, one penetrates only slowly, and when one is there one must be pleased there. “(Théophile Sylvestre.)
This faithful description of the landscape of Corot applies à la lettre to the beautiful canvas that we give here and which bears the title: Recollection of Mortefontaine.
On the edge of a lake with transparent waters, reflecting like a mirror the foliage and hills, the artist has placed the imposing mass of a large tree whose vigorous and bushy branches fill the landscape. In the serenity of this exquisite nature, tiny atoms appear in this immensity, children looking for flowers in the grass or detach the low leaves of a tree trunk. But these characters play only an episodic role; the real protagonist of the canvas is the vigorous colossus whose majestic magnitude dominates everything and it is on him that we must admire the prestigious art of the painter. Through the thick foliage, the light filters and spreads in clear, diaphanous waves, of an adorable gray shade of pearl.
Corot is “the man of the grays”, the painter of the twilight. This does not mean that his art is narrowly limited. The two auroras, as the Egyptians called them, Isis and Nephtys, the dawn of the day, and the dawn of the night, revealed themselves to Corot without reserve; he knew how to translate into subtle and yet very legible impressions the tranquility, the freshness, the indescribable trembling of life that awakens, the indecisive distance of familiar things, all the mystery and magic of this delicious moment. He invoked the goddess for his paintings, and it was never in vain. “When the sun sets,” he said, “the sun of art is rising.”
The dawn gray, the word had a cold and dark meaning before the arrival of Corot, he who was able to make the charming thrill of the freshness of the morning. As beautiful as the dawn of which they are born, appear its fine pearl-gray, and its palette seems to contain an infinity, of equal delicacy and harmonizing beautifully. These dawn paintings are exquisite, and they are true; they carry in them the certainty of absolute reality, because, in the artist, the intensity of the feeling never affected the acuteness of the vision. “Every day I pray to the good Lord,” he said, “that he make me a child, that is to say, he makes me see nature and render it like a child, without prejudice.” His prayer was answered, his landscapes, he saw them and expressed as he wanted; they keep an imperishable youth.
The Louvre Museum has many masterpieces by Corot. The Recollection of Mortefontaine is one of the most beautiful. It appears in the State Room, reserved for modern painting.
Height: 0.64 – Width: 0.88 – Figures: 0.12.