Medium: Oil On Canvas
Size: 40 x 35 cm
Signed: lower left: COROT
Achille-Francois Oudinot, sold Boston, between 1865 and 1870 by private treaty; bought Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, Boston; by descent to his grand-daughter, Eleonora Randolph Sears, Boston.
Robaut A., L’Oeuvre de Corot, Paris, 1965, vol. II, pp. 242-243, no. 721, ill
Painted shortly after Corot’s arrival in Dardagny, this luminous painting has something of the clarity of his early Roman works, with distinct blocks of colour and a warm palette. The handful of pictures that Corot produced on his trips to the mountains near Geneva and the Haute-Savoie during the late 1840’s and early 1850’s reflect his response to the cool mountain air and strong sunshine. Our painting may be compared with a work now in the collection of Mr. Paul Mellon which also has two girls wearing sun hats (although the figures are on a larger scale). These small-scale views stand in immediate contrast to the new direction Corot took from about 1850, when he adjusted his technique, understating contrasts and dissolving forms in a romantic haze. With the first major example of the new style, the Morning, the Dance of the Nymphs of 1850 (Paris, Louvre), Corot emphatically established the pattern for the rest of his career and it is works of this type that are best known to American collectors. Why then in our painting and a handful of others of the 1850’s did he strike such a different chord? The answer must lie in his method of painting, as almost all the great late works were painted in the studio, often to fulfil the increasing demands by collectors for pictures that replicated the style of his major Salon exhibits. In contrast, our painting, like nearly all the Swiss pictures painted on a small canvas, was produced, at least in part, en plein-air and, being truer to nature, the artist eschews the carefully contrived effects of the studio pictures. That our painting was carefully composed, however, there can be no doubt; this is not a work in which there is much evidence that he followed Valenciennes’ precept when painting en plein air, to work “in haste, so as to seize Nature as she is”. The painting has a sense of immediacy absent from the larger views painted in the environs of Paris and Barbizon, even when they purport to be topographically accurate. X-Ray and Infra-Red examinations disclose the figure of a girl in a summer bonnet in the center of the foreground, and another lower right, affording evidence that Corot altered his original conception. The composition is certainly more effective now, the two girls providing a counterbalance to the white building in the middle-ground and also a point from which the eye could be led back across the distant landscape. This was one of the earliest paintings by Corot to be acquired by an American. Its purchaser, Thomas Jefferson Coolidge (great-grandson of President Thomas Jefferson) was a noted collector of American art; among his best know acquisitions was Sargent’s El Jaleo, which he subsequently gave to Isabella Stewart Gardner.