The title of the painting, Les Gaulois, refers to the figures with red tunics, bronze helmets and pointed spears, who are easily identifiable as soldiers of the warrior-tribes who inhabited France during Roman times. The landscape settings in Corot’s paintings almost always remain the same regardless if the figures that populate them are real or imaginary. His young French peasant girls sit under the same trees as his nymphs and bacchantes; his field workers travel the same meandering roads as Dante and Virgil (R. 1099), or as in the case of the present painting, soldiers from an ancient era. Corot’s landscape is forever constant, no matter who –real or fictitious- inhabits its fields, hills, plains or mountains.
It is not often that the provenance of a painting includes a sequence of individuals whose names are as well-known as the past owners of Les Gaulois. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the first owner was the famous French baritone and collector, Jean-Baptiste Faure, who owned multiple works by Manet, including Déjeuner sur l’Herbe. The painting then entered the collection of the American financier, J.P. Morgan in 1879, and was chronicled by Edward Strahan in his compendium of America’s most important collections as “a truly magnificent specimen of Corot” (Strahan, p. 11). It remained in America and ended up in Michigan in the 1920s when it belonged to Matilda Dodge Wilson, who had been married to John Francis Dodge, the co-founder of the Dodge automobile company. Her estate was sold by Parke-Bernet in 1970, when Les Gaulois was purchased by Arthur Murray, the founder of the ballroom dance studios that still bear his name as well as the popular 1950s television show, The Arthur Murray Party. During their lifetime, Arthur Murray and his wife, Kathryn also assembled an impressive collection of French Impressionist paintings, which included several works by Renoir and Pissarro. They bequeathed Les Gaulois to their daughter, Jane, who was married to Dr. Henry Heimlich, the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver.
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