The Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe is showcasing the work of the French artist Camille Corot (1796–1875), in the first major retrospective of his art to be held in Germany. Some 180 paintings, drawings, and prints provide a sweeping overview of the sheer diversity of his oeuvre, from luminous plein-air studies to lyrical landscapes and large-scale decorative works, from sensitive portraits to mysterious fantastical figures. Along with works from the museum’s own collections, the exhibition includes over 170 loans from museums abroad, such as the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Uffizi in Florence, and the National Gallery in London.
With its Corot exhibition, the Kunsthalle focuses on an artist who eludes the dichotomy between traditionalism and the avant-garde. His early outdoor studies in oil point to his classical training, which was based on the 17th-century tradition of the historical landscape. Over the course of his career, however, Corot developed a pictorial language entirely of his own that evolved within the artistic trends of his time –neo-classicism, romanticism and realism – and which went on to be hugely inspirational for the generations of artists that succeeded him.
Along with his landscapes inspired by his many journeys, Corot created portraits of his family and friends, as well as fantastical figures that were inspired by examples from the Renaissance and 17th century. The exhibition will also be the first German showing of his series of decorative works that he made specificallyfor the residences of his friends. Corot’s characteristically modern style is also apparent in a selection of his drawings and prints, in which his occasionally untamed use of line breaks away from the form in a surprising way.
In order to demonstrate Corot’s artistic standing as well as his individuality, the exhibition will also include a selection of works by his immediate predecessors and contemporaries, such as Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, Achille-Etna Michallon, and Jean-Victor Bertin, as well as prominent works from the great French tradition of painting as represented by Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Antoine Watteau. A selection of works by Pissarro, Cézanne, and Odilon Redon reveals Corot’s influence on the following generation.
What makes Corot so interesting from today’s perspective and for today’s viewer is his discovery of mood as an overriding subject. As an artist of tradition and of modernity, his work denotes the transition to a form of painting that now drew from new sources for its inspiration. In keeping with this for instance, Corot’s exceptional oeuvre was very clearly nourished by his love of music. In addition to the biographical aspect of his keen interest in the musicand theatre life of the Paris of his day, the exhibition also illustrates his structural affinity and artistic proclivity towards variation and paraphrase as inspired by contemporaneous forms of music. This topic is not only explored in an essay in the catalogue, but also provides the content of ourspecial series of accompanying events. In a similar vein, Corot’s relationship with literature is another key aspect in the exhibition. Today, the diversity and seriousness of his reading tastes arewell-known to us, as are his personal ties with many poets and writers of his day, such as Théophile Gautier and Gérard de Nerval. A pivotal figure in all of this is Charles Baudelaire,with his understanding of the interconnectedness of poetry, music, and painting.