Signed COROT (lower right)
Oil on canvas
Galerie Durand-Ruel, Paris (in 1878)
M. Edwards, Paris (acquired from the above and sold: Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 24, 1881, lot 9)
Adolphe Tavernier, Paris (sold: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, June 11, 1894, lot 2)
Durand-Ruel, New York (in 1894)
Mr. and Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, New York (acquired from the above on November 14, 1894 and held in their shared collection until 1907)
Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer, New York, New York (1907-1929)
Horace Havemeyer, New York (by descent from the above, his mother, from 1929-1956)
Doris Dick Havemeyer, New York (widow of the above, held from 1956-1982, and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 18, 1983, lot 4)
Wendell Cherry, Louisville and New York (acquired at the above sale)
Private Collection, United States (acquired from the above in 1992)
Paris, Galerie Durand-Ruel, Exposition rétrospective de tableaux et dessins des maîtres modernes, 1878, no. 60
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Corot, 1796-1875, 1946, no. 70
Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Corot, 1796-1875, 1960, no. 121 (as Figure Piece, Juive d'Alger)
H.O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Scultpure and Objects of Art, Portland, Maine, 1931, p. 333
Alfred Robaut, L'oeuvre de Corot, catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris,1966, vol. III, p. 296, no. 2144, illustrated
Frances Weitzenhoffer, The Havemeyers: Impressionism comes to America, New York, 1986, p. 147, pl. 119 (with erroneous acquisition date)
Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, Gary Tinterow, Susan Alyson Stein, Gretchen Wold and Julia Meech, Splendid Legacy, The Havemeyer Collection, New York, 1993, no. 116, illustrated p. 310
Gary Tinterow, Michael Pantazzi, Vincent Pomarède, Corot (exhibition catalogue), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 356
Landscape painting was primarily what earned Corot his reputation. Much less is known about his figure paintings, and yet they appear as early as the 1820s during his first trips to Italy, and culminate in such late works as the Lady in Blue (Robaut, 2180) painted in 1874, the year before his death. It was important to Corot that he demonstrate his ability to depict the human form. According to Martin Dieterle, Corot's first serious attempt at portraiture came in the late 1820s, after his trip to Italy, where he had painted several studies of the Italian people (Robaut, 56-63 and 87-94). When Corot returned to France, this newly discovered interest in depicting the human form prompted a series of portraits, mainly done in the early 1830s (Robaut, 247-253). Additionally, this newfound talent confirmed to the sitters (mainly family and friends) that Corot was now "tout à fait peintre" (a full-fledged painter) (E. Moreau-Nélaton, Corot: Raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1924, vol. I, p. 27). However, for the most part, Corot's figure paintings seem not to have been intended for public exhibition or consumption; he exhibited only four during his lifetime. It is believed that he showed his figure paintings to only his closest friends and colleagues, removing them from a cabinet in his studio when he had a visitor. There was a small market for these pictures and the collectors who did purchase them were an elite and sophisticated group, who made purchases through select dealers such as Beugniet, Tedesco, Brame and Tempelaere.
Painted circa 1870, Juive d'Alger ranks among Corot's most ravishing interpretations of a woman. Robaut writes in his notes (Private Archive, Paris) that Corot's sitters were professional models - often Italian or Jewish - living on the rue Mouffetard or in the Marais and the Place des Vosges in Paris. There was even a "marché aux modèles" near the rue Saint-Antoine, which provided Corot and other artists with many of their most intriguing faces. These young models were transformed into "souvenirs", a word traditionally used to describe Corot's landscapes, but which could also apply to his paintings of women. In his studio, they became his modern-day Venuses and Dianas, or even came to represent a symbol of an intangible idea.
Shown seated, with downcast eyes, the young model in the present painting appears lost in her own thoughts, so much so that its title could just as easily be La Rêverie or La Méditation. She wears a traditional Greek costume (props that Corot most likely had on hand in his Paris studio). These exotic garments allowed Corot to hint at the delicate embroidery of her pokámiso or kavádi, especially its voluminous sleeves and the way they fall so naturally from her arms, creating one of the most beautiful passages in the painting. Over her pokámiso, she wears a polka-dotted kondogoúni or waist coat. The contrasting patterns of these upper garments - alternating delicate lines with bold circles - are balanced by the bright red of her heavy woolen skirt. In her right hand, she gently holds a small cluster of violets. The same model and costume also appear in a full-length portrait by Corot (see fig. 1), and both paintings once belonged to the prominent American collectors, Mr. and Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer (see fig. 3).
The Havemeyers acquired twenty five paintings by Corot during their lifetime, and while other collectors were interested in his landscapes, they were more taken with his figure pictures. Out of their twenty five works by Corot, eighteen represented paintings of women. Certainly Mary Cassatt played an important part in this collecting phenomenon, as friend and "art advisor" to Louisine Havemeyer. This factor, together with Degas' influence on Mary Cassatt and his assertion that Corot's genius lay in his figures, most likely resulted in the almost exclusive interest in Corot's women by the Havemeyers (A. Cooney Frelinghuysen, et al., Splendid Legacy, 1993, p. 21).
Cézanne and Picasso also admired Corot's women. In fact, Cézanne's Young Italian Woman at a Table (see fig. 2) may be considered to be a direct heir to Corot's Juive d'Alger. Cézanne's model revisits the same pose, pensive mood, and blocky forms juxtaposed against a delicate fabric that were first expressed in Corot's interpretation twenty five years earlier. Like these later artists, we view Corot's figure pictures with modern eyes and today recognize their importance in the evolution of abstraction in the depiction of the human form. Did Corot want to show women with large, exaggerated arms painted with individual blocks of paint, resulting in sharp angles and forms? Was that his intention or the result of a lack of formal training in the École des Beaux Arts system championed by William Bouguereau and Jean Léon Gérôme? If he did question his ability to depict the human form, did he deliberately conceal his figure pictures in the cabinets of his studio, or rarely place them on public exhibition, perhaps fearful of the critical response they might receive in the Salon, criticism which might damage his reputation? When he died in 1875, Corot was one of the most celebrated and popular landscape painters in France. Whatever the reason, Corot had no idea that his women, with their far from perfect anatomy, accidentally anti-Academic, would be the precursor of future representations of the human form in art.
Fig. 1, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Mlle. Dobigny - The Red Dress, Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, Vermont
Fig. 2, Paul Cézanne, Jeune Femme Italienne, The Getty Center, Los Angeles
Fig. 3, Louisine and H. O. Havemeyer in Paris, 1889
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