"There is only one master here—Corot. We are nothing compared to him, nothing."
- Claude Monet
Regarded by many as the first Impressionist, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot is considered the essential artistic link between the 18th and 19th centuries. His luminous, light-filled landscapes represent the first hints of the importance the plein air technique would come to hold for an entire generation of French artists. "Truth to nature" was his artistic goal, or rather, truth to his own personal perception of nature. In this way, he is widely regarded as the first exponent of the Impressionist ideals, and his canvases would come to significantly influence the modern art movement.
Corot was born in Paris in 1796 into a wealthy middle-class family. Thanks to the business success of his parents - his father was a wigmaker and his mother a milliner - he was able to pursue his artistic career freely without worry over income. He received a classical education in Rouen before embarking upon an apprenticeship in the family textile trade. Painting, however, was his true passion, and he soon devoted his entire life to perfecting his skill.
Corot studied first with Achille Etna Michallon and Jean-Victor Bertin, both pupils of the leading historical landscape painter Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. He visited the countryside in Rome, and it was there where he produced his first plein air studies, capturing the area's natural beauty and classical antiquity. The legendary golden light of the Italian landscape would have a lasting impact on his oeuvre.
In 1827, Corot's first painting was accepted at the Paris Salon in 1827 - a great achievement for any French artist. After that year, he exhibited regularly at the prestigious annual exhibition, though at times to mixed approval. His groundbreaking techniques surprised - and sometimes bewildered - the French art critics and his fellow artists. His light-drenched, airy compositions with their feathery brushstrokes were highly modern for their age, and foreshadowed the Impressionist movement that would shake the art world to its core just a few decades later.
Corot was in his mid-40s before he sold his first painting. Like the great Vincent van Gogh who followed him, Corot's innovative new style was not immediately appreciated by the art-buying public. However, his family's wealth allowed him to continue to pursue his art on his own terms and push the boundaries of his new, avant-garde outlook.
The next generation of artists were understandably drawn to Corot's innovative output. Camille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot and Alfred Sisley were all at one time pupils of Corot. While Pierre-Auguste Renoir was not his formal student, her certainly studied and admired Corot’s landscapes. Monet was equally enamored of his plein air technique and airy brushwork, while Edgar Degas purchased at least three of Corot's paintings for his own private collection.
In the end, Corot proved one of the most crucial figures in the realm of landscape paintings. A student of the French Neoclassical tradition, his paintings served as a crossroads between the conservative Academics and the younger, more radical group that would eventually form the Impressionism movement.
For his enduring contribution to the arts, Corot was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1846 and an Officer in 1867. At the Munich International Exposition of 1869, he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Michael.