Corot spent the greater part of his life in the picturesque village of Ville-d'Avray in the Ile-de-France where he lived in the house that his father bought in 1817 at 3 rue du Lac. This road, later immortalized as the 'chemin de Corot', connected the forest of Sévres with Ville-d'Avray and separated Corot's property by a nearby pond. Until his death, Corot occupied a small room on the third floor overlooking the lake. Even though he often traveled to other villages to paint and sketch, he created an impressive body of work at this rural location.
Dated 1865-70, it was painted during one of the most creative and successful periods of the artist's career. During this five year period, not only had Corot perfected the misty, often idyllic pastoral landscapes for which he became so revered, he also devoted himself more to figure painting, best exemplified by his celebrated series of young girls seated at an easel in the artist's studio (G. Tinterow, in exh. cat., Corot, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, nos. 135-139).
In this composition, Corot set up his easel in a a clearing in the woods which opens onto a river where far in the distance on the other side, white-washed cottages are seen dotting the river's edge. This view from the vantage point of the lake's shore is one that the artist depicted with regularity, though never in exactly the same manner.
A noted critic once commented, 'Corot has painting in his blood ..., he is highly personal, highly skilled, and he must be acknowledged as the dean of naturalists' (Tinterow, op. cit., p. 342). Indeed, it is widely acknowledged that Corot's great popularity remained heavily tied to the fact that his landscapes extol the virtues of pastoral life, alluded to here by the presence of the peasant woman in the foreground and the fishermen. Another Ville d'Avray landscape, contemporary to the present work, Un Matin à Ville-d'Avray (Robaut, no. 1641), was featured at the 1868 Salon and garnered enthusiastic reviews from even the toughest of critics. Marc de Montifaud wrote 'In painting nature [Corot] puts something human in it: reverie, sadness and joy' (Tinterow, loc. cit.).