Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot spent over two-and-half years on his first of three journeys to Italy, arriving in Rome in December 1825, and basing himself in and around the city for most of his time in the country.
Although Corot inherited a tradition of en plein air painting which stretched back to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819), and was continued by artists of all nationalities, Corot steered the direction of French landscape painting until the end of his century. His works were not simply extensions in oil of on-the-spot pencil sketches, but conceived as works of art in their own right, which when translated into large-scale compositions led to the public acceptance of landscape painting in France. The idiom of painting changed from one of line and reference to the antique, to one of colour, form and atmosphere.
The present work depicts the Claudian acqueduct, a few miles to the South of Rome. The area, easily accessible to Corot from the Via Appia, was one of the artist's favourites, combining the mountainous topography of the Alban hills with the lakeside views to be found at Nemi and Albano. Corot headed there immediately after his arrival in Rome, painting the same aqueduct in a spontaneous oil sketch dated December 1825 (fig. 1).
Although possibly executed in the artist's studio, since the work is on canvas rather than on the paper that Corot normally used for painting outdoors, it nevertheless has the same characteristics as his plein air works, notably the contrast between dark areas of shadow, and the sunlit architecture. Corot always paid great attention to the illumination of building facades which dot the horizon of his landscape compositions, highlighting the sense of immediacy and the precise time of day (fig. 2) . In the present work, it is clear that he has painted his subject in the light of mid to late afternoon as he faces East towards Monte Cavo. Despite the painterliness of his approach, in which the composition is built up in patchwork of earthy colours and the details of architecture and landscape are given summary treatment, the overall effect is one of great atmospheric transparency.
The apparent spontaneity of the artist's approach belies a deep classical training, particularly evident in the treatment of perspective. The focal point of the composition, the aqueduct, is rendered in such a way to anchor the composition and balance the mass of the mountains in the background; and despite being viewed from an oblique angle, Corot has accurately captured every change in its awkward shape as it snakes its way to the vanishing point marked by the bell tower in the middle distance.
The present work is sold with photocertificate no. 4155, dated 21 April 2008, by Martin Dieterle and Claire Lebeau, and will be included in the forthcoming Sixth Supplement to the Robaut catalogue raisonné.