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COROT, THE FRENCH PAINTER.
ERHAPS the pleasantest reading. ions. Corot occupies in the art of our
matter lately issued by the French time, by his talent and influence on the press is a series of memoirs of recently school of landscape, no insignificant podeceased artists. Written in a popular sition; perhaps one may even say, in style, with very few of the technicalities the general history of painting, for the of art to stumble over, they attract not reason that he was among the small only the litterateur, but the art - stu- number of those who put something of dent as well. These brochures — for their personality in their work, and who, they scarcely aspire to the dignity of remaining classic themselves (his drawbooks - are each written by some inti- ings show that), protest against the exmate friend of the artist in question, and cess of impoverished traditions which contain much matter which would not produce only false conventionalities. be included in a more pretentious biog. By his taste for the antique, his love of raphy. Bits of gossip, personal pecul- pure lines, and the care he brought to iarities, anecdotes, loving tributes of re. his compositions, he approached the membrance, and partial estimates of abil- masters. He was one of the first to enity, make up a charming work, and help deavor to unite style to love of nature, the art-student to appreciate better the thus seeking again the old paths become aims, failures, and successes of these new by neglect. modern artists. There is no more fas- Many difficulties were in his way, which cinating story than the blind gropings of he fought bravely, to his honor be it said, a gifted nature after its place and work sustained by courage and will, to the moin life. The struggles with adversity; ment when perseverance was crowned the opposition of friends, who always by victory at the end of a trial nearly as think themselves best capable of decid- long as his life. His execution is yet ing the future of the young; the abor- discussed, and there may be ground for tive attempts at “putting the round man criticism in this particular; but no one into the square hole;” the myriad ob- dreams of denying the object he pursustacles to be overcome from the outside, ed and his tendency to the ideal, for he to say nothing of the inward struggles; expresses in his own manner the most the doubts that will come at times to the elevated sentiments, those which domimost gifted; the difficulty of impressing nate all others in us-poetry drawn from others with what is so clear to the gen- the eternal springs of nature! The imius himself—all these are told in these pression made on one in examining his little books with the frankness and sim- works is that they possess qualities worplicity of a Frenchman and an artist. thy of respect even by time, an honThe list includes the names of Regnault, esty of purpose, and an unshaken conFortuny, and Corot. The last, which stancy in the pursuit of the beautiful and has just appeared, is entitled Corot: sou- the charms of truth. venirs intimes, par Henri Dumesnil, Jean Baptiste Camille Corot was born and it is from this that I propose to cull in Paris the 26th of July, 1796. His faa few memoranda in regard to an artist ther had, at the corner of the Rue du of whom there are so many diverse opin- Bac and the quay, a little shop where
were sold ribbons, flowers, etc., or, as he and delicate organization, but the transexpressed it, “frivolities and gewgaws, lators who are charged, by virtue of the which gave us a living and a little more.” peculiar faculties with which they are He had two sisters; the elder he was endowed, to communicate to others that very fond of, and did not long survive which they feel and see? As yet the her death. The younger died in her young man's aspirations were dreams, youth. Corot never married. In 1806, and night alone his confidant; with dayhe was sent, for economical reasons, to light came practical things and real life. the Lyceum at Rouen, and remained His father, for whom he had great rethere seven years. According to French spect, at this time placed him in the shop custom, the pupil was always accom- of a cloth - merchant in Rue Saint Hopanied by some older person. Young nore; soon after he was changed to anCorot's companion was a friend of his other place in the same business, in Rue father-a grave man, fond of solitude, de Richelieu, where he began drawing of lonely places, and who generally walk- at every leisure moment, hiding his work ed in the evening or twilight. He led under the counter. His new master the young lad to the environs of the city, proved indulgent, and gave him faciliover little - frequented roads, under the ties for access to pictures, telling M. wide-spreading trees of the plains, or Corot that the boy was good for nothing sometimes by the banks of the streams. in trade, and he had better let him folThese dusky images were then engraved low his inclination. Here he remained, on the mind of the child, and made a last- however, for eight years. Fancy what ing impression. Later, after his return those eight years of servitude were to to Paris, he spent the summer at Ville that restless eager soul, full of aspirad'Avray, where his father had a country- tions and unuttered poetry! There was house, bought in 1817, and which was some compensation in the habits of orafterward his home with his sister. This der, regularity, and industry which he house was near a lake-now dried up- then acquired, and which remained fixed and often, when all were sleeping, he re- for life. Eight o'clock, even in winter, mained the greater part of the night at saw him always in his atelier; his dreams the open window, absorbed in the con- were of his work, and his first thought templation of the sky, the lake, and the in the morning was of his unfinished picttrees. The solitude was complete; no ures.
ures. He usually sung while dressing, noise troubled the reveries of the young and then hurried to his easel. His love dreamer on that lonely hill-side. He of painting at this time was probably inpassed long hours in these poetic medi- creased by a friendship he formed with tations, and doubtless his mind in that an artist of reputation; and, one day, humid atmosphere saw in the light trans- arming himself with courage, he begged parent vapors rising from the bosom of his father to permit him to quit trade the lake, those vague floating forms, and take the brush, for that was what graceful nymphs, daughters of the air, he most desired in this world. The and the living idyls which very soon wealthy man- a successful trader, who made their appearance in his landscapes. 'found his ideal in the things “where The memories of his childhood at Rouen one succeeds, where one gains” — was were thus more deeply impressed, and not enchanted with his son's request, he always attributed to them in a great but gave him the conditions on which degree the origin of his tastes and his he would give his consent. “Your sis. peculiar artistic career. What are we, ter's marriage portions are ready now, or rather what are artists of sensitive and I hoped very soon to be able to provide you also with a good establish- but sketched in oil. Several of these ment, for you are old enough now to be studies are celebrated — that of Tivoli, at the head of a house; but since you re- of Pont Saint Ange, and the Coliseum. fuse to continue your trade in order to The last drew him out of his obscurity, become a painter, I give you fair notice began his reputation, and has a history, that I have no capital for you. I will while others have sold for fifteen cents! give you an annuity of fifteen hundred One, for example, found by an amateur livres a year, but don't count on anoth- on the quay near where Corot lived, was er thing. See if you can live on that!” brought to him, to know if it was truly Camille, much moved, thanked his fa- his work. ther, saying that “it was all that was “Yes, certainly; it is mine." necessary, and made him very happy. “The merchant told me so, but I He has kept his word; has known how did not believe him. See, what a low to be happy for more than thirty years price!” on this little income, without deviating “Ah! well, if it were not mine, think a line-a sincere lover of art, satisfied what a price it might bring!” with his independence, pursuing his task These studies are like detached leaves with earnestness to the moment when which will resume their existence in the fame came to recompense his honest la- finished work of the artist. bor and faith.” As soon as he was free All these attempts, which show failure -the same day, even-he procured his as well as progress-hesitation between artistic outfit and made his “first study” two opening paths — were of especial in the centre of Paris, by the side of his value; and in the evening of life, he said father's house, on the steep bank of the with much satisfaction that, though his Seine, not far from the Pont Royale, studies were very unequal in merit, yet looking toward the city. Those who their general tone was healthy and good, have had access to Corot's atelier re- and showed no feebleness in following member this debut of his brush, pre- the course he had marked out. served with care, and which he loved to He never sold one, and had lost but talk about.
very few-a dozen in thirty-five years. “When I did that-it is now thirty- Sometimes those which had been loanfive years ago — the young girls who ed were returned after long absence, worked for my mother were curious to when they were quite forgotten; one, see Camille in his new trade, and ran among others, after fourteen years' abfrom the shop to see me work-one we sence, came home "in these last days to called Rose came oftener than the oth- the sheep-fold.” “This,” pointing to ers. She is living still, not married, one, “was done when I was with Michaland comes sometimes to see me. She lon, who, poor fellow! died at twentywas here last week. O! my friend — six, just when I was commencing to what changes, and what thoughts they paint. He had talent which would have bring! My little study has not changed. made him famous, had he lived. To It is always young; it brings up the carry me back to fifteen, all that is nechour, even the time of day, when I made essary is a handful of hazelbush - leaves. it. But Rose and I-what are we?" I find in the perfume all my youth and
This “first study”in gray harmonious the vivid impressions which had their tones contained the germs of artistic birth there !” qualities which developed in the sketch- Each spring found Corot in the counes which he always made in his travels, try. April saw him either at Ville d'A. for he not only used the pencil freely vray, or with his old friends the clothmerchants. Bad weather never stopped of the day—they listened with pleasure, him.
but that was all. His work was even "That is nothing. I go to rest my- treated with a certain irony. Such was self-with work! Think of it! I have the situation when, one day, Aligny, who but thirty more years to live, even if I was an authority in landscape, passed live to be a hundred, and they will pass near where Corot was occupied in makso quickly. Already seventy have flown ing a study of the Coliseum. He was like the travels one makes in a dream! struck with its truth, and, looking at it I must not waste the rest, which will go with attention, expressed his surprise at yet more rapidly."
finding qualities of the very first order, After the death of his first master, precision, skill, and the broad treatment Corot entered the studio of Victor Ber- which he had so admirably rendered. tin, a pure classicist, whose pictures re- He congratulated the artist, who at first call
, if one can use the expression, all thought it a piece of pleasantry, and was the coldness of the accessories of trag- little disposed to accept it; but Aligny edy. It was not under such teaching made his praises with much seriousness, that he could acquire the suppleness and in the evening, before his comrades, and the manner of rendering masses, repeated them, giving good reasons for the transparency of the atmosphere and his opinions, and concluded by saying the trembling of the foliage-in a word, that this young man, who had until now the delicate and tender side of nature. been in the shade, would in time be the All these qualities were happily well- master of them all. His position was enough rooted to resist the influence of changed as by a miracle. Aligny was a Bertin, while the lessons he received grave skillful man, not liable to be dewere invaluable for precision of form ceived, and his judgment was respected. and laying the foundation of composi- From this moment the author of the tion.
lovely “Study of the Coliseum" was conIn 1825, Corot visited Italy for the sidered an artist of value, and with a futfirst time, and found in Rome that gal. ure. Sustained by the example and axy of young French painters, among counsels of Aligny, who had discovered whom were Leopold Robert, Schnetz, his talent and given him confidence in Aligny, Edouard Bertin, Bodinier, etc. himself—that great sustaining spring of Pierre Guérin had the direction of the life - he devoted a large portion of his academy. The new-comer was well re- time to outdoor studies. Those which ceived as a "good fellow.” At that time belong to this period can be easily reche was a man of medium stature, with a ognized by the firmness and precision frank, free, healthy air, a quick eye, great in drawing and strict adherence to natmobility of countenance, a high-color- ure. There is nothing in them of the ed complexion, and a manner in which fantasies to be found in those of later good-fellowship was mingled with much date. Corot was deeply touched by the delicacy of feeling. There was no ques- approbation of Aligny, the first who had tion of his work; it was not considered given him words of encouragement and worth a thought; it was his sprightly cheer, and always regarded him with nature they loved. He sung well, and great esteem and gratitude. In 1874; in the evenings, at the restaurant Della Aligny was buried in the cemetery of Lepre, often surprised them with his Mont Parnasse. Although it was at ready translations of the songs of the eight o'clock of a winter morning, scarceday. There, and at the Caffe Greco- ly daylight, and the snow falling still, a place of habitual reunion after the work Corot was there, and, in speaking of it
afterward, said: “It was a duty, a sacred Corot was nearly sixty before he debt; could I do less ?” The half-cent- achieved any marked success with the ury which had passed away since those general public. His fellow-artists were cheering sincere words were spoken in the first to give in their allegiance; Diaz the gardens of Cæsar had not enfeebled the very first. The picture which athis gratitude.
tracted Diaz had been painted for an After his return to France, in 1827, amateur, and refused. Corot composed Corot appeared for the first time in the it one evening when returning from Verexhibition, or salon, as it is termed, and sailles to Ville d'Avray on foot. He from this time to the end of his life neve dreamed over it in his childish fashion er quitted the field of battle of the ex- at the open window, and by next day all hibitions. For him, in truth, it was a was complete in his mind. He returnfight, and a long one. He was alone, ed at once to his studio in Paris, and by ranged under no banner, seeing in his nightfall it was finished. own way, resisting experiments which, “What!” said he to himself, “done notwithstanding their undoubted value, already! I have made a lot of money did not respond to his instincts. He in a very short time. It can't be possiwished to be truthful, but at the same ble; I must retouch it, yet I will very time he felt in himself the fire of poetry likely spoil it if I do. No; I'll let it which demanded satisfaction. He could alone, and watch the clouds through a not be pleased with a translation alone little tobacco-smoke.” of material things — with an exclusive A few days after the amateur came, naturalism, however strong. From this looked at it in front, then from the side, came the carelessness and half- disdain walked about and remained silent, and with which he regarded his works. He at last finished by saying: “It is not looked at things from a high stand-point, very gay. I will speak to my wife; she being well persuaded that the arts are a does not love melancholy things. I will power in the state, that they have a grand let you know soon." rôle to play in the march of civilization, A few days after he wrote and gave and mark the progress and decadence up the picture. “Decidedly, my wise of a people.
would find it too sad, after what I told When he had attained his fiftieth year, her about it.” he exhibited his “View in the Forest of Despite this pitiful result, Corot was Fontainebleau,” which gained him a dec- satisfied with the picture. “I feel that oration. In the future his way lay in the it ought to be good, and it is not every broad sunlight, although yet he was far day I can do as well. Some one else from being accepted by the crowd that will take it, some time." afterward besieged his studio. Even his That some one was Diaz, who was father for a long time could not believe struck with admiration for the “beautiin his son's genius, for he had always ful canvas,” and at once made an effort regarded him as a humbug. After he to obtain it. The bargain was not diswas decorated, he asked M. Français, cult to conclude, and Diaz was the proud one of his pupils, who had already some owner of the once despised picture. reputation—"if truly Camille had any As age crept on and a younger gentalent, any merit? Tell me, for you eration of artists clustered round Corot, know what painting is.” It was diffi- seeking words of counsel and cheer, he cult to persuade the old man that his loved to recount the chances and chanCamille was "stronger than all the oth- ges which had befallen his different picters."
ures; for instance, the one which was er.