National Geographic : 1961 May
JEAN-BAPTISTE-CAMILLE COROT (1796-1875) A View Near Volterra Son of a Parisianmilliner, Corot was the most widely acclaimed Frenchland scapist of the century. His silvery scenes of later years anticipated Im pressionism. Before gaining recognition, Corot walked the Tuscan hills north of Rome. Years later, working from memory and sketches, he painted this recollection of the sun-bronzed countryside. Perhaps in nostalgic remembrance of care free days in Italy, his models are often dressed in Italian peasant costume, but as person alities they do not exist. In contrast, the in animate objects in "The Artist's Studio" can be identified (page 688); for example, the painting on the wall above the easel is now known as "La Blonde Gasconne," and is the prized possession of the Smith College Mu seum of Art in Northampton, Massachusetts. Impressionists Defied the Rules The second ingredient of a great epoch in art is individual genius, and it would be hard to imagine a more bizarre group of per sonalities than those whose paintings are represented here: a Creole ironmonger's son (Pissarro), a renegade stockbroker (Gauguin), a Pittsburgh heiress (Mary Cassatt), a re tired civil servant (Rousseau), adrapery sales man (Corot), a crippled viscount (Toulouse Lautrec), and an epileptic Dutch preacher (Van Gogh). This motley group was united by the central desire to paint pictures accord ing to new and revolutionary doctrines. After the mid-century, the academic tra ditions slowly but surely strangled themselves with their rules and assumptions. There were set methods for composing designs, arranging colors, and for rendering the third dimension. "Nowadays," wrote Renoir, "they want to explain everything, but if they could explain everything it wouldn't be art. Shall I tell you what are the two qualities of art? First, it must not be capable of being explained in words, and secondly, it must not be capable of being imitated. A work of art must seize hold of you, wrap you up in itself, and carry you away. A work of art is the vehicle of an artist's passion. It is the current which he puts forth which sweeps you along in the flood tide of his emotions." 686 Obviously, a painter with such beliefs flouted the academic rules. Renoir's "Oars men at Chatou" violates most precepts of his day (page 672). "I arrange my subject," he wrote, "and then go ahead and paint it like a child. I want a red to ring clearly like a bell. If it doesn't turn out that way, I add more reds until I get it.... I have no rules and no methods." The relaxed mood of Renoir's painting is, in fact, largely due to this informality. It is like dropping in on a party before the guests have had time to adjust their hats and pose.