Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot
Fontainebleau – Orage sur les plaines (Fontainebleau – Storm over the Plains), 1822
Seeing their son’s determination to become a painter, Camille Corot’s parents decided in 1821 to give him an annual income to let him try and establish his career. He immediately joined the studio of Achille-Etna Michallon, studying classical landscapes and beginning to work outside. When Michallon died, still a young man, Corot moved on to Jean-Victor Bertin, the best-known of the neo-Classical landscape painters.
This study in oil on paper was painted in the forest at Fontainebleau, some forty miles south of Paris. The place had been sporadically popular with artists since the eighteenth century, attracting Jean-Baptiste Oudry and Simon-Mathurin Lantara among others. It became much more popular from 1810 on with landscapists looking for a range of picturesque motifs. Corot was one of the first artists to work there regularly. Following the advice of his masters, he took studies from life to build up a repertoire of images that he could use to compose landscapes back in the studio.
Fontainebleau – Orage sur les plaines is one of his very first studies. The landscape is composed in classical fashion, with the lower third for the land and the upper two thirds for the sky, alternating zones of light and shade to create a sense of depth of field. On the left in the foreground stands a dead tree, at odds with the marked horizontality of the overall composition. It brings a touch of drama to the scene. Corot has ignored the best-known features of the forest, the majestic trees of Bas-Bréau and the great rocks in the Apremont gorges, preferring to focus on the storm clouds scudding across the sky, rendered in clearly visible brush strokes. In the same year, 1810, the British painter John Constable was also turning his gaze to the sky, drawing several dozen studies of clouds.
Tobias G. Natter and Franz Smola (eds.), Wolken. Welt des Flüchtigen, exh. cat. Vienna, Leopold Museum, Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2013: 114-115.
Paul Lang (ed.), Corot en Suisse, exh. cat. Geneva, Musée Rath, Geneva, Musées d’art et d’histoire, Paris, Somogy, 2010: n. 30.
Michael Pantazzi, Vincent Pomarède et alii, Corot 1796 | 1875, exh. cat. Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Ottawa, Musée des beaux-arts du Canada, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Paris, Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1996.