A Corot landscape
Nick and Flynn are flown to Normandy in the company of military attaches from allied nations across the globe. They drive through scenes of recent battles, evidenced by wrecked armored vehicles strewn across the landscape. “This residue was almost always concentrated within a comparatively small area, in fact wherever, a month or two before, an engagement had been fought out. Then would come stretches of quite different country, fields, woodland, streams, to all intents untouched by war.
“In one of these secluded pastoral tracts, a Corot landscape of tall poplars and water meadows executed in light grays, greens and blues, an overturned staff car, wheels in the air, lay sunk in long grass.” [MP 162/157]
The landscape to which Nick compares this melancholy vision is one of those by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875), a painter of neoclassical training whose landscapes anticipate those of some Impressionists who relied on the capacity of soft-edged shapes to suggest the subtle and fleeting movements in nature observed plein-air. Early in his career Corot worked directly from nature to produce views of Rome and the Italian countryside that startle the viewer with their crystalline clarity of vision. But later in life Corot painted increasingly from memory, producing what he called “souvenirs” of scenes he had studied directly and now recalled as in a dream. It is one of these paintings that we believe Nick has in mind as he himself recalls the dream-like beauty of the Normandy countryside, punctuated by nightmarish souvenirs of recent battles.