Camille Corot was born in Paris, in a house on the Quai by the rue du Bac, now demolished. His family were well-to-do bourgeois people, and whatever may have been the experience of some of his artistic colleagues, he never, throughout his life, felt the want of money. He was educated at Rouen and was afterwards apprenticed to a draper, but hated commercial life and despised what he called its "business tricks," yet he faithfully remained in it until he was twenty-six, wher his father at last consented to his adopting the profession of art.
Corot learned little from his masters. He visited Italy on three occasions: two of his Roman studies are now in the Louvre. He was a regular contributor to the Salon during his lifetime, and in 1846 was decorated with the cross of the Legion of Honour. He was promoted to be officer in 1867. His many friends considered nevertheless that he was officially neglected, and in 1874, only a short time before his death, they presented him with a gold medal. He died in Paris and was buried at Père Lachaise.
Of the painters classed in the Barbizon school it is probable that Corot will live the longest, and will continue to occupy the highest position. His art is more individual than Rousseau's, whose works are more strictly traditional; more poetic than that of Daubigny, who is, however, Corot's greatest contemporary rival; and in every sense more beautiful than J. F. Millet, who thought more of stern truth than of aesthetic feeling.
Corot's works are somewhat arbitrarily divided into periods, but the point of division is never certain, as he often completed a picture years after it had been begun. In his first style he painted traditionally and "tight" —that is to say, with minute exactness, clear outlines, and with absolute definition of objects throughout. After his fiftieth year his methods changed to breadth of tone and an approach to poetic power, and about twenty years later, say from 1865 onwards, his manner of painting became full of mystery and poetry. In the last ten years of his work he became the Père Corot of the artistic circles of Paris, in which he was regarded with personal affection, and he was acknowledged as one of the five or six greatest landscape painters the world has ever seen, along with Hobbema, Claude, Turner and Constable.
During the last few years of his life he earned large sums by his pictures, which became greatly sought after. In 1871 he gave £2000 for the poor of Paris (where he remained during the siege), and his continued charity was long the subject of remark. Besides landscapes, of which he painted several hundred, Corot produced a number of figure pictures which are much prized. These were mostly studio pieces, executed probably with a view to keep his hand in with severe drawing, rather than with the intention of producing pictures. Yet many of them are fine in composition, and in all cases the colour is remarkable for its strength and purity. Corot also executed a few etchings and pencil sketches.
In his landscape pictures Corot was more traditional in his method of work than is usually believed. If even his latest tree-painting and arrangement are compared with such a Claude as that which hangs in the Bridgewater gallery, it will be observed how similar is Corot's method and also how masterly are his results.
The works of Corot are scattered over France and the Netherlands, Great Britain and America. The following may be considered as the first half-dozen: "Une Matinée" (1850), now in the Louvre; "Macbeth" (1859), in the Wallace collection; "Le Lac" (1861); "L'Arbre brisé" (1865); "Pastorale—Souvenir d'Italie" (1873), in the Glasgow Corporation Art Gallery; "Biblis" (1875). Corot had a number of followers who called themselves his pupils. The best known are Boudin, Lepine, Chintreuil, Fran çais and Le Roux.