‘I am fine’, Corot wrote to friend in 1871. ‘I’m working as if I were seventy’ (Corot, letter to Jean Rochenoir, 29 August 1871, quoted in Robaut, op. cit., p. 345). During the last ten years of his life, public affection for Corot deepened. His popularity had not waned toward the end of his career and collectors and dealers alike waited impatiently for his paintings to dry so they could be released from his studio. At the Salon he continued to be a success, although now that he was either on the jury or hors concours, his work was automatically accepted.
By the 1870s, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was the recognized patriarch of French landscape painting. By this time, he had been painting and exhibiting for over fifty years. Jules Castagnary, Corot’s longtime supporter and established art critic, delivered the following upon viewing two works by the artist in the Salon of 1873:
'If fame came to him late, talent did not. In the revolution begun by Constable’s two paintings, he was there, enrolled with the innovators. He was the school born and saw it grow, himself developing and evolving through the double action of years of reflection…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' (J. A. Castagnary, ‘Salon de 1873’ in Castagnary, 1892, vol. 2, p. 73).
Dated circa 1865-1870, Le cottage de boucherons was painted during the most creative and successful periods in the artist’s career. By this time, Corot had perfected the misty, often idyllic pastoral landscapes for which he became so revered. Corot was considered to be the leading landscape painter of his time, and Le cottage de boucherons is an exquisite example not only of his innate ability to capture his local environs, but also his ability to translate onto his canvas the atmospheric effects of any given time of day.
Le cottage de boucherons, unlike many of the heavily wooded landscapes so favored by the artist, depicts two women gathering wood under an open sky, the landscape punctuated by their cottage nestled beneath the edge of the forest. It is clearly midday, as the light has the warm, clear tones of noontime. The sky is a tour de force of atmospheric effects; white clouds tinged with yellow and lavender swirl above the figures below and brilliant blue pockets punctuate its center. As is characteristic of his work from this period, the fore, middle and background of the composition are clearly delineated. The large fallen tree from which the two women break off their firewood defines the foreground, while the middle ground is populated with the architectural element of the charming cottage. The clever placement of another cottage in the background brings the eye of the viewer far into the distance and leads the viewer up into the swirling clouds of the midday sky. All is connected by the cleared forest floor which draws the viewer through the landscape and into a world of sunlight and shadow, the deep forest and the sunny clearing, all illuminated by the diffuse light of the summer sky.
It is for this ability to capture such effects that Corot was aptly dubbed ‘the very poet of the landscape.’
We are grateful to Claire Lebeau and Martin Dieterle for confirming the authenticity of this work, which will be included in the upcoming supplement to the Corot catalogue raisonné.