Le berger dans un gorge au bord de la mer, executed in 1872, is a beautiful example by Corot at the peak of his powers. In the words of Moreau-Nèlaton, it is 'one of those evening paintings, golden and melancholy, that were a specialty of his and that he rendered with such deep feeling' (Moreau-Nèlaton, 1913, p. 72).
Executed on a grand scale, this is perhaps one of Corot's 'winter paintings', executed 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 this picture attest to the awesome power of the master to evoke a specific time of day with all the harmonious enchantment of nature viewed first-hand.
Le berger dans un gorge au bord de la mer depicts a shepherd and his dog, standing on a hillock overlooking a sweeping landscape which reached out to the sea. Predominantly executed in an almost monochromatic palette, it is spectacularly heightened by the golden glow left behind by the setting sun. The depth of the landscape is deftly created by the placement of the figures in the middle ground, shown in half-light, the figure of the shepherd and his dog on the hilltop further back and to the right balanced by the town in the background to the left. In the distance, the sea stretches to the horizon. 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 brushwork. Corot uses layers of thinly applied glazed 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 Theodore 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' (Banville, 1861, pp. 235-236).
This work has been authenticated by Martin Dieterle.