By the 1850s, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796–1875) was pursuing a long, steady and, one might say, reasonable career as a painter. He exhibited and produced a steady stream of work.
But despite receiving the French Legion of Honor in 1847, his work didn’t sell in large numbers, nor did it have widespread critical recognition. Corot lived comfortably thanks to the support of his family, devoting himself solely to his craft.
From all reports, Corot was a kind and generous man, helping artists young and old. When successful Americans such as Toledo glass manufacturer and Toledo Museum of Art founding member Edward Drummond Libbey (1854-1925) began collecting European art in a big way in the mid-19th Century, Corot’s work started to sell robustly.
Corot wanted to help out his less fortunate friends, so he established a workshop. In the workshop, Corot’s artist friends would develop early versions of paintings, and he would adjust and finish accordingly.
Workshops for artists are nothing new, nor have they gone out of style. But Corot’s habit of giving unsigned paintings to friends, plus the workshop paintings themselves, have made the attributions of Corot’s work difficult at times. Such was the popularity of his work that it was heavily copied, leading Corot to become the most forged artist in history. There is an old joke in the art world: “Corot painted 3,000 works in his lifetime, and 10,000 of them are in American collections.”
Canal at Picardy (oil on canvas, 18” x 24”, ca. 1865-71) is from the later years of Corot’s career. It features the light touch and lyric quality, plus the silver tonality that distinguishes his mature works.
The poet Baudelaire astutely observed, “Monsieur Corot is more a harmonist than a colorist and his compositions, which are always entirely free of pedantry, are seductive just because of their simplicity of color.” In this work, the finely balanced tree trunks and sky demonstrate this harmony and, though formal, are never rigid.
The Toledo Museum of Art’s collection is vast and wide-ranging; it is considered one of the top museums in the country. The museum introduces artworks from the other side of the globe with the current exhibition, Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art, on view through July 14.
Nationally renowned local artist Michael McEwan teaches painting and drawing classes at his Clintonville area studio.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875), Canal in Picardy. Oil on canvas, ca. 1865-1871. Gift of Arthur J. Secor, 1922.20.