In the summer of 1854, Corot and his friend Constant Dutilleux, returning from a two-month sketching trip to Holland, passed through the French village of Douai. The small village must have particularly enchanted Corot, for it appears in numerous canvases throughout his career and he returned often to the region, dividing his time with the Robauts in Douai and the Dutilleuxs in Arras.
Throughout their lifetime, Corot and Dutilleux were frequently seen painting together in the countryside. In the present composition, painted late in September of 1854, Corot has portrayed his friend sketching in a meadow among a group of birch trees. It was Corot's habit to take a view of a town by situating himself on the outskirts, usually indicating the village with an architectural monument as he did in the present composition. In the distance, the ramparts of the medieval fortress are barely discernable. Medieval art and architecture had long interested Corot, who immortalized the monuments of Douai in works such as The Belfry at Douai (1871, Musée du Louvre).
Corot's simple palette, a harmony of greens and browns are contrasted against the white of the sky, further heightening the tonality of the work. Not more than a few years later Corot would be called 'the very poet of landscape'. Dutilleux's presence in the painting plays upon the unspoken union of the artist in nature working en plein air. As one critic would write, "The bond, the great bond that 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 him" (quoted in Tinterow, Corot, 1996, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, exh. cat, p. 262).
The present work was in the collection of Jules Clarétie, a noted art critic and writer of the time whose seminal work Peintres et Sculpteurs Contemporaine was published in 1873.
This work has been examined and authenticated by Martin Dieterle.