Avignon vue de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (1836)

Corot, Jean-Baptiste-Camille (1796-1875)

Avignon vue de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (Avignon from the West)
Oil on canvas, 34 × 73.2 cm
National GalleryLondon

Corot visited the medieval city of Avignon in the south of France several times. This panoramic view of the city most likely dates from his stay in July 1836 with three fellow artists in the small town of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. On the opposite side of the Rhône from Avignon, the town was a favourite spot for viewing Avignon itself. During this visit Corot painted several studies outdoors, which show either Avignon or Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

One branch of the Rhône can be seen on the left of the picture while the other is hidden behind trees in the middle distance. It is possible to identify a number of the landmarks in Avignon, including the Papal Palace in the centre and the remains of the Pont Saint-Bénézet (the bridge made famous by a fifteenth-century folk song) and its adjacent chapel on the left.

The luminosity of this oil study is similar to outdoor oil sketches Corot made during his first visit to Italy from 1825 to 1828. These include The Roman Campagna, with the Claudian Aqueduct, also in the National Gallery’s collection. As in those sketches, Corot uses horizontal bands of light and dark tones and blocks of carefully modulated colour, which he places next to each other. Avignon itself lies in the sun-drenched middle distance. Its brightness is heightened by the landscape behind it, which gives definition to the buildings’ outlines, and by the dark woodland in front.

As was the practice in oil sketching, Corot has left the thinly painted foreground relatively empty. A single small tree on the right disrupts the picture’s horizontality and symmetry and also heightens the sense of distance between the foreground – where we are located – and Avignon. The city’s buildings are painted as a series of light and dark flat planes, with dark squares for the windows. Corot pays little attention to the exact detail of the architecture but is instead more interested in the overall effect of the composition as a harmoniously balanced arrangement of colours and tones. Those colours he uses are limited to warm tones of grey and brown, shades of dark green and the cool mauves and blues of the distant hills and sky. The areas of greatest brightness – including the houses on the left, the Papal Palace and the sandy hills on the right (whose curves echo those of the river on the left) – are placed evenly across the picture to enhance the careful balance of the composition. (NG)

See also:

Avignon | Villeneuve-lès-Avignon (France)