CAMILLE COROT DESCRIBES THE BEGINNING OF A LANDSCAPE PAINTER’S DAY
You know, a landscape painter’s day is delightful. You get up early, at three o’clock in the morning, before sunrise; you go and sit under a tree; you watch and wait. At first there is nothing much to be seen. Nature looks like a whitish canvas with a few broad outlines faintly sketched in; all is misty, everything quivers in the cool dawn breeze. The sky lights up. The sun has not yet burst through the gauze veil that hides the meadow, the little valley, the hills on the horizon. The nocturnal vapours are still creeping in silvery flakes over the frozen green of the grass. Ah! a first ray of sunshine! The tiny flowers seem to wake up happily. Each has its tremulous dewdrop. The leaves shiver with cold in the morning breeze. Invisible birds are singing beneath the leaves. It seems as though the flowers were saying their prayers. Little butterfly-winged cupids frolic over the meadow, making the tall grass ripple. One sees nothing. Everything is there! The whole landscape lies behind the transparent gauze of the fog that now rises, reveals the silver-spangled river, the fields, the trees, the cottages, the further scene. At last one can discern all that one could only guess at before.
The sun is up! There is a peasant at the end of the field, with his waggon drawn by a yoke of oxen. You can hear the little bell round the neck of the ram, the leader of the flock. Everything is bursting into life, sparkling in the full light – light which as yet is still soft and golden. The background, simple in line and harmonious in colour, melts into the infinite expanse of sky, through the bluish, misty atmosphere. The flowers raise their heads, the birds flutter hither and thither. A countryman on a white horse rides away down the steep-banked lane. The little rounded willows on the bank of the stream look like birds spreading their tails. It’s adorable! and one paints! and paints! . . .
This little piece was jotted down while Corot was staying in Switzerland with his friend Daniel Bovy at the Château de Gruyères in 1857. Corot was sixty years old. Beginning as a traditional landscape painter, he had evolved by the 1850’s a purely personal landscape style, poetic but at the same time based on close observation of nature. Simple and generous by nature, he painted for the sheer joy of it.