Roads and paths are recurring motifs in Corot’s work. From his youth, the artist was particularly fond of depicting lanes that ascend or descend into the distance. The paths around the artist’s home in Ville d’Avray were a constant source of inspiration from the date of the present lot onwards.
The present work has a crispness built on the contrasts between the glaring sun and the gentle qualities of a Northern European landscape; the warm tones and the play of shadow and light are offset by the cooler tones and the feathery rendition of the foliage and soft Northern sky.
In the present painting Corot has depicted a lane and meadow near his lakeside home in Ville d'Avray, a small commune on the outskirts of Paris, where the artist's family had lived for nearly six decades. The house in Ville d’Avray at 3, rue du Lac (fig. 1), where Corot lived for the greater part of his life, was purchased by his father, Louis Jacques Corot, on 4 March 1817. The house was first recorded in 1783 and by the time the elder Corot purchased the property the house was fairly substantial, with two floors and an attic. Until his death, Corot occupied a very small room on the third floor with two windows overlooking the lake. Rue du Lac, which became known as ‘chemin de Corot’, connected the forests of Sèvres with the village of Ville d’Avray and separated the Corot property from the pond. Views of this pond, Corot's own house and the distinctive Cabassud houses populate works throughout Corot’s oeuvre (fig. 2), however the artist always took certain liberties with the landscape and the architecture. Time seems to stand still, as if in a dream about to be revealed, in a world 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. The artist 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 M. Clarke, Corot and the Art of Landscape, London, 1991, p. 121).
Collectors clamoured at Corot's door, and the artist was hard pressed to meet the demand for his landscapes. These paintings represent a deeply felt and aesthetically refined impression of time and place, and were prized for their sensitivity and poetry. Corot wrote: "We must never forget to envelop reality in the atmosphere it first had when it burst upon our view" (quoted in M. Clarke, op. cit., p. 107). Corot's landscapes were unlike the more bluntly naturalistic and prosaic scenes of the Realist school, artists Courbet and Daubigny, and more lately their younger followers Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley. Théodore de Banville praised Corot in his review of the Salon of 1861: "This is not a landscape painter, this is the very poet of landscape, who breathes the sadness and joys of nature... The bond, the great bond that makes us the brothers of brooks and trees, he sees it; his figures, as poetic as his forests, are not strangers in the woodland that surrounds them" (quoted in ibid., p. 262).