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Corot, 1796-1875
Corot, 1796-1875

Published by Laboratoire de recherche des musées de France

This review was contributed by Artchive Patron
Joe Bennett.

Corot, 1796-1875: A Scientific Analysis of 85 of his works in the Louvre from the Research Laboratories of the Museums of France

Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot is the subject here, the gentle Frenchman who without even trying to do so, moved landscape painting out from under the shadow of the Academy and threw open the door to all landscape that has followed, an artist beloved in his own day and collected by such as Pissarro, Degas and Picasso; the same Corot of whom Monet said, 'There is only one master here - Corot. Compared to him, the rest of us are nothing, absolutely nothing."

This CD Rom is presented as a technical review in French, English and Italian of the restoration work performed on the 85 selected paintings - among Corot's best-known, including the small "Road to Sèvres" (34 by 49 cm) just recently stolen from the Louvre by thieves who simply cut the painting out of its frame. Beyond the technical presentation, the disc presents the history and provenance of each painting, along with a biographical resumé of Le Père Corot. Not stopping with that plateful, the disc presents a scientific dossier for each painting, a glossary (some of its entries translated into a choice of eight languages, including Catalan and Portugese), a light-show in which the user can direct the light source, and finally, a colormetric analysis of the hues in one of the paintings, whatever that might be.

What a treasure this disc could have been had it not fallen victim to one of the great oxymorons of our time: French Technology. No Dominique Brisson here, who so capably guided the discs of the Louvre and d'Orsay, and her guiding hand is deeply missed.

Quickly through the woes of this disc and then on to its values:

  • First, a great part of the disc is inaccessible to the user. One whole file, named "visitet" on the disc, cannot be accessed, but by using the Quick View feature it is possible to glimpse a trove of potentially fascinating illustrations of the physical faults and flaws of great art now over a hundred years old. Crackleture, garlanding, all the goodies, are in that file, and it cannot be called up.

  • Second, the "Scientific Portfolio" presented with each painting is useless. The program tries to call up the information, but all that appears is the wallpaper. Again, there is a sneaky way around this, but it requires an electronic detective to crack its secrets.

  • Third, the photographic reproductions of the X-Rays, and most of the paintings, are depressingly dense, except when viewed through still another circumscribed technique, discovered only with the investment of hours and hours of playing with these files.

  • Fourth, the Help file is virtually useless, a compendium of the obvious. No technical assistance of any serious kind is available. E-mails in English are routinely ignored after the French fashion.

  • Fifth and finally, this disc is virtually impossible to obtain. Though it is touted at a site on the Internet, an e-mail in English nets nothing, as above. But there is a way, described later.
Now, for the values:
  • That catalog of misery would seem to raise serious questions as to why anyone should want to obtain this disc. Yet it has much to commend it. For one, it presents in a single place a review of the life work of this splendid man and affords hours and hours of worthwhile time spent in his company.

  • Particularly good is the biographical section, divided by the four major periods of the artist's life, with paintings representative of each period. Whichever language you select, the paintings in this section are accompanied by a commentary in French, two by a man and two by a woman. And when she speaks, one must work to avoid falling in love.

  • The colormetric analysis I am certain is of interest to one technically proficient in such things, but for the average user, it is unintelligible. The "light show" is nifty, but one tires of it quickly and moves forward.

  • The real value of this work lies in the text. It is a mine of insight after insight into the work and the ways of this artist. Every statement is documented and the entire script is free of cant and "review babble." The authors have simply accepted the fact that Corot's genius speaks for itself and needs no support from them, and have then gone about their task with absolute objectivity. They are not out to sell anything. Corot simply is, and you will take him or leave him as you wish.
Because the text is so good - and there are some other values as well - it could be worth while obtaining this disc, even though its authors are determined to make that as difficult as possible. Perhaps, if fluent - stress "fluent" - in French, they might respond to an e-mail, but nothing in my experience would support that idea. Here's how:

Write, expressing your regrets for annoying him but asking for his help, to:

M. Christian Lahanier
Chargé de mission scientifique
Laboratoire de recherche des musées de France
Direction des musées de France
6, rue des Pyramides
75041 Paris Cedex 01

M. Lahanier will then pass your request over to a Madame Daudé at the organization's Distribution Center. She, in turn, will send you a notice, in French, that you may have a disc for 335.22 FRF, which, you learn when you go to your bank to get the money order, translates to about $56. The bank will charge $10 or so for the service, and issue you a draft in French Francs which you then send back to Madame Daudé, and she then, promptly I would say, sends you the disc.

Yes, I actually did all that, and I doubt that anyone will do better unless Monsieur the Director first kicks some butt. For the children of Le Père Corot, it is worthwhile. For the casually curious, it is not.

Again, for the children, three books focusing on Corot are available and are hugely worthwhile:

  • "Corot in Italy" by Peter Galassi and published by Yale University Press covers in depth and with diligent scholarship - don't be frightened, it really is readable - the seminal period in the young life of Camille Corot, formative years that shaped his art for a half-century.

  • "In the Light of Italy, Corot and Early Open-air Painting" by Philip Conisbee, Sarah Faunce and Jeremy Strick, and published by Yale for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, places Corot and his contemporaries into the broad context of this early 19th Century movement.

  • "Corot" by Gary Tinterow, Michael Pantazzi and Vincent Pomarède, published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in connection with the 1996 exhibition of 163 of the artist's works is the most comprehensive of the group, and if one is all you'll have, the Met version is the one to get. Essays by the collaborators are extremely well done, the Tinterow piece on "Le Père Corot: The Very Poet of Landscape" especially so.
A preview of the disc, including a bit of its frustration, using the beautiful "Lady with a Pearl", is found at: www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/corot





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