Following the death of his first teacher, Achille-Etna Michallon, a winner of the Prix de Rome for his historical landscape in 1817, Corot worked under another teacher, Jean-Victor Bertin. From these two artists he received both a classical training and encouragement to work outside in the countryside. Corot subsequently developed friendships with the Barbizon painters, but continued to remain independent from them in his aesthetic choices. The pearly colours of his palette, the subtle changes of emphasis and a study of finely rendered light create an unusual atmosphere in his works.
The artist remained outside official art circles, and did not belong to any particular school. Because of his sensitivity to nature and his particular concentration on the phenomena of light, he was often ranked among the precursors of Impressionism. Willows is one of these misty landscapes which he was to produce so prolifically from the 1860s on, and which won him many admirers.