Martin Dieterle will include this painting in the sixth supplement to Alfred Robaut's catalogue raisonné.
A man and woman meet on a rural path, crossing paths as they journey from one village to the next. The hour is early morning, not long after first light. The air is still, time seems to stand suspended, in a world just newly awakened. Corot in fact preferred to work during the very early morning hours, lending this scene the veiled, silvery light and misty effects that are famously characteristic of his late landscapes. Arthur Stevens, writing under the pen name J. Graham, imagined Corot at work in his article Un étranger au Salon, 1864, a description which was probably based on Corot's own notes and is reported to have amused the painter when he read it:
"You get up at a good hour, at three o'clock in the morning, before the sun; you sit down at the foot of a tree; you look and wait. You do not see much at first. Nature resembles a whitish canvas where the profiles of some masses are barely discernible; everything is misty, everything shivers at the fresh breath of the dawn. Bing! The sky clears... the sun has not yet rent the gauze behind which hide the meadow, the dell, the hills on the horizon... The nocturnal mists still linger like silvered flecks on the chilled blades of green grass. Bing!... a first ray of sunlight" (quoted in M. Clarke, Corot and the Art of Landscape, London, 1991, p. 89).
Corot advised his viewers: "To enter fully into one of my landscapes, one must have the patience to allow the mists to clear, one only penetrates it gradually, and when one has, one should enjoy it there" (quoted in ibid., p.121).
In paintings such as L'aube printannière, the relationship between the late work Corot, with its light-filled tonalities and airy atmosphere, and the early paintings of the Impressionists is most clearly apparent. Corot declared: "Beauty in art consists of truth imbued with the impression we received from the contemplation of nature ... We must never forget to envelope reality in the atmosphere it first had when it burst upon our view. Whatever the site, whatever the object, the artist should submit to his first impression" (quoted in ibid., p. 109). Progressively minded commentators, as well as painters themselves, acknowledged Corot as one of the significant forebears of the very newest trends, which Edmond Duranty discussed in his seminal pamphlet The New Painting, published in 1876, a year after Corot's death. Having named Courbet and Millet, Duranty continued: "The roots of the new painting lie also in the work of the great Corot... that man who was always searching, and whom Nature seems to have loved because she revealed so many of her secrets to him" (quoted in full text version, The New Painting, exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986, p. 41). The present landscape invites comparison with Sisley (see lot 73); as Richard Shone has noted: "Of the older generation of painters whom Sisley admired, Corot remained paramount... Similar motifs excited both painters and in Sisley's early works Corot emerges as the guiding presence" (Sisley, New Yorlk, 1992, p. 34).
"Corot is the patriarch of the French landscape," wrote Jules Castagnary in his commentary on the Salon of 1873. "He has been painting for fifty years. If fame came late to him, talent did not... When one thinks that the hand that placed these deft touches carries the weight of seventy-seven years, such fortitude comes as a surprise and a marvel. The illustrious old man is the lone survivor of a vanished past." (quoted in G. Tinterow et al, Corot, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996, p. 350). Following the Salon of 1874, the last to which Corot contributed, Castagnary again praised him: "A master in his turn, he saw many generations of young men pass through his studio. They came to ask him the secret of his strength. 'Feel deeply,' he told them, 'and communicate your emotion.' How many eyes did he open? How many hands unbind? How many brains set free! And there he is, still standing, still struggling, as young as ever" (quoted in ibid., p. 374).