La tour dans les arbres signed 'Corot' (lower left) oil on panel 7 3/4 x 10in (19.6 x 25.4cm) Painted in 1865
PROVENANCE: Mlle. Trouillet, gift from the artist; with Arnold & Tripp, London, 1895; M. Tempelaere.
LITERATURE: A. Robaut, L'Oeuvre de Corot, Catalogue raisonne et illustre, Paris, 1965, vol. III, no. 1607, (dessin de A. Robaut).
La tour dans les arbres was painted during the most successful and creative period in Corot's career. During the 1860s, Corot perfected the idyllic pastoral landscapes for which he became so revered. He was considered the leading landscape painter of the epoch, and the present work not only exemplifies his innate ability to capture his local environs, but also his capability of poetically translating onto canvas the atmospheric effects of any given time of day.
In La tour dans les arbres, Corot expertly captures the effects of twilight upon the landscape. Corot was captivated by light at the end of the day and the 'evening pictures' appear regularly in his oeuvre from this point forward in his career. The foreground is deeply shaded and the painting is illuminated by the pinks, oranges, lavenders and blues that light up the sky at dusk. Although the foreground is indeed dark, the figure of the girl on the hillside is cleverly highlighted by her white headscarf and the bright red of her skirt. The landscape is deftly divided into the foreground, anchored by the tree on the left of the composition, the middle ground, defined by the tower on the hillside, and the background, defined by the lake and the hills in the distance. Corot uses layers of thinly applied glazes and scumbles to create a surface of complexity even on so small a panel and demonstrates his ability to evoke a world of silent peace and serenity.
It is this quality in Corot's landscapes the prompted the critic Théodore de Banville to write: '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 he will not destroy their inner life, he can dispense with all servile imitation' (Banville, 1861, pp. 235-236).
In his catalogue raisonné, Robaut tells a charming story about this painting. Corot often became lost in the beauty of the forest, and when he was working on this particular panel he became so engrossed in his work that it suddenly became very dark in the woods. He had to quickly finish the painting and he could not clearly see the colors in his painting box. He added the woman in the foreground of the painting without knowing what color he had painted her clothing and it was only on the next day that he realized that he had painted her dress red.