Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (France, 1796–1875)
Cows Resting at the Foot of Cool Hills, (Le Repos du vacher au pied des fraiches collines), ca. 1855–65
Oil on canvas
19 ¾ x 24 1/8 in.
Aaron M. and Clara Weitzenhoffer Bequest, 2000
The Forest of Fontainebleau became a popular retreat from urban life for upper and middle class Parisians in the 1830s and a source of inspiration for a group of painters known as the Barbizon School, so named for a nearby village. Although the Barbizon School formed loosely in the 1830s, it was not until the 1850s that they received recognition at the Salon, the official government art exhibition. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot served in the Salon jury in 1849 and soon thereafter became one of the leading figures of the group.
Corot favored atmospheric, tonal scenes painted directly from nature, or en plein air. In paintings such as Cows Resting at the Foot of Cool Hills, he began with a light gray ground to create the subtle luminosity for which he was later acclaimed by the Impressionists. He also mixed white with his colors to achieve the effect of natural light. This landscape may have been drawn in part from Fontainebleau, though it likely depicts the Roman countryside. The tower in the background compares to that of a medieval fortification now part of the Palazzo Ruspoli in Nemi. Corot had been visiting the area since his first Italian sojourn in the 1820s, and Cows Resting at the Foot of Cool Hills follows a venerable tradition of pastoral Italian landscapes initiated by French artists such as Nicholas Poussin and Claude Lorrain. Like those two artists, Corot juxtaposes a quiet scene of country life with the lingering relics of the past, which encourages the viewer to contemplate both the peace of country life and the transitory nature of civilizations.