16. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Paris 1796 – 1875 Ville d’Avray

Travellers in a Mountainous Landscape near Rome

Corot’s masters, Achille-Etna Michallon (1796-1822) and Jean-Victor Bertin (1767-1842), may have trained him in the neoclassical taste, but they also placed great importance on understanding landscape by drawing from nature. The artist would put these lessons to good use on his first trip to Italy between 1825 and 1828. This drawing is undated – unlike most others done during his first stay in the country – but can probably be connected with the very beginning of his Italian period. It testifies to Corot’s experimentation, as it was here that he wrought his graphic language, as well as his innovative sensibility.

The swift and spontaneous use of the pencil in this sheet preserves the vitality of a drawing done on the spot, while the construction of the landscape, with the harmonious succession of planes, evinces the importance of the artist’s classical training. Nonetheless, Corot was able to put life into his landscape by steeping it in an intense, atmospheric light and enlivening it with figures.1 On the left, the artist strived to accurately describe the outlines of the trees, the mass of the foliage and the volumes of the rocks, shadowed by a play of dense hatchings.2 The repoussoir motif of the tree, on the edge of the sheet, was done with particular care: in an almost decorative manner, Corot rendered its twisted line, intermingled branches and the texture of the bark. A similar attentiveness can be found in other masterful studies done near Civita Castellana in 1827, in which, this time, the tree occupies a central position.3 The rest of the landscape was cursorily handled, Corot merely jotting down the outlines with a light but sure line. As for the topography of the locations, it calls to mind the surroundings of Ariccia, which Corot explored around November 1826.4

If our drawing does indeed come from the painter Harpignies’ collection, as an old inscription suggests, it would offer new evidence of the bonds between the two artists, already illustrated by a letter from Harpignies to Corot in the Fondation Custodia’s collection of autographs.5 The acquisition of this important early drawing further confirms the Fondation’s high opinion of the artist; the institute also holds five other Corot drawings, paintings, a rich collection of autographs, a reduced version of his terracotta bust by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887), as well as a portrait of him drawn in charcoal by Charles-Paul-Étienne Desavary (1837-1885). MNG

1One of the woman carrying a basket on her head appears borrowed from another sheet by Corot, Figures in a Vale Crossed by a Brook, near Papigno, Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. RF 8964 (pen and brown ink; 315 × 386 mm); see Alfred Robaut, L’Œuvre de Corot, 5 vols., Paris 1905, vol. 1, p. 36, no. 2494, repr.; and http://arts-graphiques.louvre.fr/detail/oeuvres/1/19520-Vue-de-lAriccia-max.

2This interest in rock formations is found in another drawing of the Normand collection acquired by the Fondation Custodia, View of Valmontone, near Rome, 1829, inv. no. 2017-T.32 (pencil; 210 × 315 mm); as well as in a Study of the Quarries of Fontainebleau, c. 1830-1835 (pencil; 100 × 150 mm); see sale, Paris (Artcurial), 27 March 2009, no. 74, repr.

3As in these other drawings in Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. nos. RF 5220 (pencil; 311 × 389 mm); see Robaut 1905, op. cit. (note 1), vol. 4, p. 14, no. 2505; RF 3405 (pen and brown ink, over pencil; 300 × 419 mm); see Arlette Serullaz, Corot, exh. cat, Paris (Musée du Louvre) 2007, cat. no. 7; and RF 4026 (pen and brown ink, over pencil; 400 × 269 mm); see http://arts-graphiques.louvre.fr/detail/oeuvres/1/16668-Etude-darbres-a-Civita-Castellana.

4As shown by this drawing in Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. RF 5221 (pencil; 249 × 369 mm); see http://arts-graphiques.louvre.fr/detail/oeuvres/1/19520-Vue-de-lAriccia-max.

5Inv. no. 1996-A.344, dated 28 June 1871.