Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot Souvenir of Mortefontaine
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot's 1864 painting Souvenir of Mortefontaine is a serene vision of an idyllic scene, perfectly encapsulating the hopes and insecurities of the French nation in the 1860s, as they drifted towards militarism, decadence, and civil conflict. Although this tranquil canvas bares all the hallmarks of the Realist movement that Corot was closely associated with, Souvenir of Mortefontaine can also be seen as a precursor of Impressionism, infused as it is with the preoccupations of literary Romanticism. In 1864 Corot exhibited Souvenir of Mortefontaine, a work constructed from studies and sketches made a number of years previously in the Mortefontaine landscape, at the Paris Salon. The subject of the painting is a recurring theme in Corot's oeuvre, and, by its very simplicity, allows the artist to focus on heightening the aesthetic effect of the painting. It is an expression of sensitivity that attempts to lead the viewer into a world of poetry, nostalgia, and beyond into an almost musical universe.
Corot remains, rivalled perhaps only by the Impressionists, the preeminent French landscape painter of the nineteenth century. During his lifetime the artist was consistently sought after by both French and English collectors and achieved great popular acclaim. Particularly popular in Victorian England whose taste for poetry and harmony in composition made them the perfect audience for Corot's work, the artist also gained renown in America and Japan. Following its debut at the Paris Salon, the French Emperor Napoleon III acquired Souvenir of Mortefontaine for his Château de Fontainebleau.
The canvas depicts a landscape dominated by a wide pond, in the foreground a young woman accompanied by two children appear to pick fruit from a haning tree, as the composition is punctuated by the sturdiness of the tree trunk which opens the perspective on the lake vista. Distant forests are reflected in the calm waters, employing the sense of a world continuing unawares behind the confines of the frame. A precursor of the Impressionists, Corot worked outdoors, 'en plein air', and then resumed his paintings in the studio. Clearly the artist was fascinated by the effects of light upon the shimmering lake, as many of his paintings feature the presence of forests and trees reflected in the calm screen of the French waters. Perhaps also inspired by photography, Corot was a pioneer in employing the modern ideas that were circulating in an increasingly fractious French empire in the mid to late nineteenth century.
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