Le batelier quittant la rive avec une femme et un enfant assis dans sa barque (soleil couchant), executed during the most prolific decade of the Corot's life, is a beautiful demonstration of the artist at the height of his powers. In the words of Etienne Moreau-Nélaton, it is ‘one of those evening paintings, golden and melancholy, that were a specialty of his and that he rendered with such deep feeling’ (E. Moreau-Nélaton, Corot: Biographie critique, Paris, 1913, p. 72).
Executed on a much larger scale than many of his landscapes from the period, it is likely one of Corot’s ‘winter paintings’, created in his studio from studies and memory during the winter months when painting out-of-doors was not possible. Even so, the spontaneous brushwork and luminous effects of the present painting attest to the awesome power of the master to evoke a specific time of day with all the harmonious enchantment of nature view first-hand.
Le batelier quittant la rive avec une femme et un enfant assis dans sa barque (soleil couchant) depicts a boatman ferrying a mother and child across a river at sunset. Although predominantly executed in an almost monochromatic palette of greys and greens, it is spectacularly heightened by the golden glow left behind by the setting sun. As is typical of the artist’s work from this period, the depth of the landscape is deftly created by the placement of the boat and figures in the foreground, the darkened trees that create the middle ground and the background by the sun setting behind the landscape at the bend in the river. The running water of the river ties these three distinct areas together and this, in conjunction with the light sky juxtaposed against the shadows of twilight in the foreground creates a rhythm and harmony that is almost musical. The depth of the painting is further enhanced by the physical brushwork. Corot uses layers of thinly applied glazes and scumbles of browns, greens, blues and grey to create a landscape of surprising complexity which results in the creation of a world of silent peace and serenity. It is this quality in Corot's late landscapes that prompted Théodore de Banville to state, 'This is not a landscape painter, this is the very poet of the landscape....who breathes the sadness and joys of nature... The bond, the great bond that makes us brothers of brooks and trees, he sees it; his figures, as poetic as his forests, are not strangers to the woodland that surrounds them. He knows more than anyone, he has discovered all the customs of boughs and leaves; and now that he is sure that he will not destroy their inner life, he can dispense with all servile imitation' (T. de Banville, ‘Le Salon de 1861’, Revue fantaisiste, 1 July 1861, pp. 235-236).
It is interesting to note that this painting was once owned by the Dutch artist, Hendrik Willem Mesdag, one of the leading artists of The Hague School in the Netherlands. Like Corot, Mesdag painted with an unbiased view of nature and throughout his long and successful career sought to portray truth and immediacy in his art. Mesdag was also regarded as a master of capturing the effects of light and air, and it is easy to see why the present painting would appeal to his discerning eye.
We are grateful to Claire Lebeau for confirming the authenticity of this work.