A Christmas present for the nation

Issued December 2014

The Art Fund helps the National Gallery acquire Corot’s 'The Four Times of Day'  

The only decorative cycle on public display in the UK by one of the most influential artists in the development of landscape painting and a key inspiration to the Impressionists, will remain on view for future generations to enjoy after being purchased by the National Gallery with the support of the Art Fund.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Four Times of the Day: Morning, about 1858. Bought with the assistance of the Art Fund, 2014 © National Gallery, London
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Four Times of Day: Morning, about 1858. Acquired with the assistance of the Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation), 2014 © National Gallery, London

The Four Times of Day (about 1858), by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, has a long association with the UK. The four paintings, representing Morning, Noon, Evening and Night, were acquired by artist Frederic, Lord Leighton in 1865 and were among the earliest Corot works to be acquired by a British collector. Lord Leighton displayed them as the focal point of his London home, where they provided inspiration for his fellow Victorian artists. After his death, the paintings spent more than a century in the same family collection and have been on loan to the National Gallery since 1997. The pictures were acquired for Lord Wantage at Christie’s in 1896 and their sale to the nation was negotiated by Christie’s.

Corot painted the four large panels, which trace the deepening light of the sky from sunrise to star-studded night, to decorate the Fontainebleau studio of his friend and fellow painter Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps. He completed the cycle in a single week, prompting Decamps to exclaim, 'Not so fast, don’t hurry so; there is still enough soup for a few days more.' Decamps apparently spent hours in contemplation of the panels, filled with dismay at their quality, technique and effect compared to his own work.

'The Four Times of Day' belong to a decade in which Corot's work was shifting to a more personal impression of nature, one in which 'souvenirs', (studio landscapes composed from memories or sketches of real landscapes), played an increasing part. It is one of the largest decorative cycles by the artist where all the paintings can still be viewed together in one place – and the only in the UK.

'The Four Times of Day' complements 21 paintings by Corot in the National Gallery collection, ranging from plein air oil studies painted in Italy and France to a substantial group of late studio landscapes in his characteristic mature style - plus the recent gift by Lucian Freud of one of Corot’s late, great, majestic studies of women, Italian Woman, or Woman with Yellow Sleeve (‘L’Italienne’) of about 1870.

National Gallery Director Dr Nicholas Penny, said:

“The Four Times of Day are without narrative although there are figures blended with the natural forms. Each painting is a meditative evocation of the beauty of nature and at the same time a bravura demonstration of the artist's skill in improvising landscape compositions that are subtly interrelated in both colour and form. They are among Corot's greatest works and we are delighted that – with support from the Art Fund – we are able to make them a permanent addition to the national collection.”

That the National Gallery is the perfect home for The Four Times of Day was recognised as far back as 1896 when the Pall Mall Gazette art critic, Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson, commented at the studio sale after Lord Leighton’s death, “The Corot’s deserve a place in the National Gallery, and if any millionaire should care for Corot, Lord Leighton, England, or art, he could not do better than present them to the nation.”

Art Fund Director Stephen Deuchar said:

“We could not think of a better home for these important works than the National Gallery, where they have resided and delighted for over 17 years. We were very pleased to help by offering a substantial grant.”

'The Four Times of Day' can be seen now on display in Room 41 of the National Gallery, London.


Painting Information
The Four Times of Day: Morning, about 1858
Oil on wood
142.2 x 72.3 cm
Bought with the assistance of the Art Fund, 2014
© National Gallery, London

The Four Times of Day: Noon, about 1858 
Oil on wood
142.2 x 62.2 cm
Bought with the assistance of the Art Fund, 2014
© National Gallery, London

The Four Times of Day: Evening, about 1858
Oil on wood
142.2 x 72.3 cm
Bought with the assistance of the Art Fund, 2014
© National Gallery, London

The Four Times of Day: Night, about 1858 
Oil on wood
142.2 x 64.7 cm
Bought with the assistance of the Art Fund, 2014
© National Gallery, London

About Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

Born in Paris on 17 July 1796, Corot was the son of a cloth merchant and a milliner.

After an education at the Collège de Rouen and two abortive apprenticeships with drapers, at the age of 26 he was given the financial freedom to devote himself to painting. He first studied with the landscapist Achille Etna Michallon, and after his death with Jean-Victor Bertin, both pupils of Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. In 1825 to 1828, Corot made the trip to Italy considered so essential to the formation of a landscape artist, spending time in Rome and the Campagna, before travelling to Naples. In 1827 he sent his first paintings to the Paris Salon. Corot travelled extensively in Europe throughout his life, and during these trips he painted in the open air and filled numerous notebooks with drawings. His early oil sketches were clearly defined and fresh, using bright colours in fluid strokes. During the winter months he worked in the studio on ambitious mythological and religious landscapes destined for the salon.

His reputation was established by the 1850s, which was also the period when his style became softer and his colours more restricted. In his late studio landscapes, which were often peopled with bathers, bacchantes and allegorical figures, he employed a small range of colours, often using soft coloured greys and blue-greens, with spots of colour confined to the clothing of the figures. His influence on later 19th-century landscape painting, including the Impressionists, was immense, particularly in his portrayal of light on the landscape.

About the Art Fund

The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art, helping museums to buy and show great art for everyone. Over the past 5 years we’ve given over £26m to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections and placed hundreds of gifts and bequests, from ancient sculpture and treasure hoards to Old Master paintings and contemporary commissions, with 25% of grants going towards works by living artists. We also help museums share their collections with wider audiences through supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, including the national tour of the Artist Rooms collection and the 2014 tour of Jeremy Deller’s English Magic, the British Council commission for the 2013 Venice Biennale. Our support for museums extends to the Art Guide app – the comprehensive guide to seeing art across the UK, promoting a network of nearly 700 museums and galleries throughout the country, and the £100,000 Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year – an annual celebration of the best of UK museums, won in 2014 by Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield. We are independently funded, the majority of our income coming from over 105,000 members who, through the National Art Pass, enjoy free entry to over 220 museums, galleries and historic houses across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at www.artfund.org.
Please contact Madeline Adeane, the Press Relations Manager, on 020 7225 4804 or madeane@artfund.org.

Art Fund

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