Antonio Cortes, an artist in the circle of Barbizon open air painters.
Born in Seville in 1827, Antonio Cortes came to France in 1855 for the Universal Exhibition; before that he had been a painter at the Spanish Royal Court where his talent brought him fame and the favors of art lovers. When he settled in Lagny sur Marne in 1865, the town was booming, the technological advances boosted all the activity sectors. Society as a whole was swinging irrevocably into the industrial era. Lagny was a little town located in the heart of Ile de France on the banks of the Marne river twenty kilometers away from Paris, Lagny was with Troyes, Provins and Bar sur Aube one of the most popular market places in Champagne and boasted then the signs of its incredible mutations.
The Paris Strasbourg railway line had been open since 1849. This had triggered an amazing expansion of manufactures, but the tanneries remained the main driving economic force when schools, slaughter houses, and a large scale hospital were built.
“La Belle Epoque” followed on from the fatal war of 1870 when the town was completely destroyed.
Almost everywhere, magnificent houses were built for the Parisian bourgeoisie, eager to enjoy the charm of the pleasant and relaxing setting. Restaurants flourished, boatmen bustled on the Marne river, and sporting events attracted a public hungry for leisure and shows, as countless intellectuals, writers, actors, scientists and artists flocked to the Lagny area.
Among the scores of artists living in the area during the second half of the 19’h, century, the most prominent figure was by far Charles Jacque (1813 1914). Established in Barbizon in 1849 with his friend Jean Fran~ois Millet, he rapidly became, along with Millet, Thdodore Rousseau, Narcisse Diaz de La Pena, Charles Francois Daubigny, one of the best representatives of this new landscape school, systematically ignored by the Salon jury, in the wake of the 17th Dutch landscape painters: Bonington (1801 1828) and Georges Michel (1763 1843).
These artists renewed the romantic landscape painting tradition by imposing the absolute truthfulness of a realistic approach in trying to get as close as possible to the spectacle of rural life. Through mere love for their art and nature, they went as far as wanting to blend constantly with it, placing their easel on the scene. Whatever the weather they endured the rain, the snow, the fog, for the sake of a communion, which was more of mystical nature than an act of heroism.
Since they were prone to translate in their work the seasonal variations and their specific moods, it made them the direct precursors of the impressionist painters.
In 1863 Charles Jacque came to live with his family at Annet sur Marne, a village near Lagny. A painter and engraver, his works mainly depict farmyard scenes, indoor scenes in the Barbizon sheep pen, herds of sheep grazing freely or under the watch of the shepherd and his dog. The banks of the Marne river supplied him with other subjects such as tow horses, fronts of inn facades, or Le Pont et les Moulins sur la Marne a` Lagny, the work that he engraved around 1865.
Particularly active in this circle of artists eager to reveal the truth of nature, is Antonio Cortes whose oeuvre is fully in keeping with the Barbizon school. It is not surprising to find his name on the list of exhibitions of Salon des Artists Francais during 1868 as part of pleinairisme. His main topics are not sheep but in the manner of Constant Troyon, herds of cows and oxen. Apart from Les Moutons dEspagne (Salon of 1870) the catalogs of the salon, where he appeared as early as 1868, stressed his constant attachment to presenting cattle in all kinds of situations, in pastures, at the watering place, near the sea side, the pond, in the cowshed, at the market place, etc.
He excels in painting cattle but this does not exclude other participants of the rural life. They enable him to assert his talent as a formidable painter of animals; being a careful colorist he knew how to emphasize the red of the shepherdess’ scarf to enhance the grays and the greens. His knowledge of Flemish Masters such as Cuyp and Potter, his sharp sense of observation, his skill with contrasting light, his understanding of the structure of landscape, all lend his painting a highly attractive and decorative quality, and make him more than a mere disciple of the Barbizon pioneers. He was not only an authentic landscape painter but also a significant painter of animals. This is evident in Vaches au paturage in Lagny museum or more precisely in Vaches dans unpaysage (Troyes Fine Arts museum).
He was much famed in Lagny where he lived at number 7 Bld Carpentier, with his wife, born Angeline Cecile Berger, and their son Andre Corte`s y Aguilar born in Paris in 1866. During the 1870 war, they went back to Paris, where his wife was to die the year after.
After the tragic events, which occurred during the Commune de Paris, the family returned to Lagny and lived at 32 rue du Pont Neuf.
Antonio Cortes resumed his landscape paintings and took the time to teach his art. Among his students was a young man from the town who already had the reputation of being an art and nature buff craving for culture. He devoured all Cod& teaching and advice, not long after he would become one of the innovative painters of the last quarter of the 19th century. His name was Le`o Gausson (1860 1944) and had all his life a great admiration for the one he called his “good master”. Gausson was a close friend of Antonio’s eldest son, Andre Cortes, who seemed to be a most promising artist.