The Oak in the Valley
On 18 March 1871, just at the start of the Paris Commune which followed the Franco-Prussian war and the siege of Paris, Alfred Robaut arrived in Paris to persuade Corot to join him in the north of France. Leaving the capital a week later they arrived in the north on 1 April, staying ten days in Arras before spending the rest of the month and the whole of May at Robaut’s house in Douai.2
This scene of a lake surrounded by trees was painted by Corot during that May while staying with the Robauts. The dominant tree to the left has given the picture its title. In the foreground three figures are huddled in a group. While many of the pictures painted by Corot when in the north of France are of specific sites, Robaut does not identify the location of this painting in his catalogue raisonné, and it seems likely that it is a studio work.
1.For a full discussion of materials and technique see article by S. Herring, ‘Six Paintings by Corot in the National Gallery: Methods, Materials and Sources’, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, 30, 2009.
2. For Corot in the north of France see D. Horbez, Corot et les peintres de l’école d’Arras, Tournai 2004, particularly pp. 23–4.
3. Alfred Baron adopted the stage name Cléophas in 1857 when he took the role of that name at the Théâtre de la Tour-Maubourg. He was a friend of Daumier, who inscribed his address in one of his account notebooks for 1865–70, ‘M. Cléophas, 3 bis rue de Tivoli’ (J. Cherpin, Daumier et le théâtre, Paris 1953, pp. 48–9). He was particularly admiring of Corot’s work and owned at one time or other at least fourteen of his paintings. In 1873 Corot worked at times in a studio at 19 bis rue Fontaine, put at his disposal by Cléophas. It was here that he painted Pastorale (R2107, Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum, Kelvingrove), acquired by the dealer and exhibited at the Salon of that year. Robaut relates the anecdote: in around 1874 Corot was painting at Ville-d’Avray, a circle of admirers watching him, among them, Cléophas, who had put his blue silk hat on the ground, where it was hit by a falling paint brush loaded with white paint. Corot immediately took it up and turned it into a composition of a tree by water with clouds. E. Moreau-Nélaton in Robaut 1905, I, pp. 305–6.
4. Surville was another former actor who turned to picture dealing. The sale of his estate took place at Petit, 14 February 1884, and included four paintings by Corot. Three were figure paintings. The dimensions of the fourth, Paysage - Etude, are listed as 19 x 22 cm, too small to be those of The Oak in the Valley.
5. The Oak in the Valley was also among the pictures offered to the Gallery in 1962 and was one of the five chosen by the director (Board Meeting, 1 March 1962). At the meeting of 4 October this particular painting had dropped out, and two others were being offered in its place (which were not in the end acquired).