Camille Corot Biography

Camille Corot




Painter and printmaker Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was born on July 16, 1796, in Paris, France, the second of three siblings whose parents were of the late 18th century bourgeois class, his father a wig make and his mother a milliner. This afforded Corot some measure of ease as an artist where most of his peers weren't so lucky. His natural talent for drawings in grade school was awarded with a scholarship to the Lycée Pierre-Corneille in Rouen, and he lived with family friends on their estate in the countryside whiel attending classes. However, this was short lived as he proved to be a poor student with no desire to exhibit or to earn medals. Shy and prone to spending more time alone outdoors that with other people, he returned home and continued his studies privately, taking a job as a draper.

Despite disliking his job, his exposure to the fabrics and colors, as well the design habits of professional decorators, informed the execution of his artwork. He took up oil painting in 1921 and became a pupil of Achille Etna Michallon, an artist his own age who was already a sought-after mentor and teacher. This period of time in French landscape paintings one of great change: parties were divded as to the importance of Neoclassicm versus Realism, and Corot found a wealth of inspiration in both. With Micahllon he would take sketching trips to the outdoors, working under Neoclassical ideals of precision and drama but occasionally turning his eye toward the figures of everyday, unadorned French rural life. Tragically, Michallon died in 1822 of pneumonia at the age of 25, cutting short a promising career and leaving Corot to look for a new mentor, which he found in Michallon's own mentor Jean-Victor Bertin. While accepting Bertin's classical training without question, he desired to continue his exploration of Realism, and he did so on his own.

From 1825 to 1828 Corot lived and studied in Italy, a la the leading painters of the time, following in the tracks of Italian Old Masters. Unlike these students of antiquity, however, he found little inspiration in anything other than what already piqued his interest: nature. He captured the Italian countryside and ruins, rounding out his self-education with a crash course in atmospheric, panoramic views and strong Mediterranean light. On his return he began exhibiting for the first time in the Paris Salons and was also gaining commissions for portraits. It wasn't until 1835, however, that he would find critical acclaim for his work, and not until 1845 and the support of Baudelaire and other intellectuals and artists, who recognized the exciting experimental nature of the un-schooled Corot, that his work gained a real following. In 1846 he was decorated with cross of the Legion d'honneur.

Despite mercurial attentions of the salon world, Corot continued to find connection with other artists and he worked tirelessly in his unique style; decades later, his work would be seen as a precursor to Impressionism. After the revolution of 1848 he was at last invited to be on the Salon jury, but he was still held at arm's length by many critics. He took his work seriously enough that he eschewed romance of any kind and remained close with his parents. It wasn't until they died that he allowed himself to take on students, though remaining informal and avoiding institutions. Among his students were Charles Daubigny, Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morrisot, Edouard Brandon, and many others; he would go on to be a celebrated and welcoming mentor and supporter of the arts and younger artists, and whose studio in later life was a hub for creative people of all kinds. By the 1860s he had finally achieved the monetary success that other artists had gained earlier in their lives; he often spent it on others or donated it to the poor or to the widows of friends. 

Corot died at age 78 in Paris. Just weeks before his death he was given a medal by his friends who had long thought he was never given proper recogition by the Salons and French government. Of his landscape work and his pioneering plein-air technique, Claude Monet said "There is only one master here - Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing." Time has proven the great appreciation the art world would gain for his work.

Corot's work hangs in the collections of the Musee de Louvre, Paris; the Pushkin Museum, Moscow; the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., the Wallace Collection, London; the National Museum of Decorative Arts, Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Glasgow Art Gallery, Glasgow; the Musee Conde, Paris; the and the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota, among many others.