Corot liked painting his own private and poetic world at Ville-d’Avray, west of Paris between Saint-Cloud and Versailles, where he owned a house he had inherited from his parents. Early in his career, the artist adopted the Île-de-France with its sombre landscape of ponds and woods, devoid of any picturesque or romantic touches. There Corot put his solid grounding in outdoor landscape painting to good use, painting things as they appeared. In this painting, the architectural motif of the lock undoubtedly captured his attention. The painter, as was his wont, may have added some figures from his imagination—like the fisherman in his boat—to liven up the canvas.
Corot liked living surrounded by friends and acquired the habit of painting from nature in the company of other artists. Recognized throughout his life for his kindness, he gave this freshly painted work to the landscape painter François-Louis Français, whom he had met several years earlier in Barbizon. The teacher had already enabled the young Français to spend time in Italy (1845-1849), and this had a decisive role in the evolution of the latter’s art. Corot, moreover, generously advised Français on the practice of landscape painting. A talented printmaker and watercolorist, Français became an interpreter of Corot’s work, copying many of his works for Les Artistes anciens et modernes and for Les Artistes contemporains. This canvas, which attests to the strong element of friendship in the teacher-student relationship, possesses the charm, sincerity and freshness of a nature study.