A Corot for the National Gallery in London

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875)
Italian Woman or Woman with a Yellow Sleeve, c.1870
Oil on Canvas - 73 x 59 cm
London, National Gallery
Photo : London, National Gallery

4/2/13 - Acquisition - London, National Gallery - An Italian Woman has just become an important addition to the National Gallery for two reasons : painted by this eminent artist, it was part of the collection of a famous painter, Lucian Freud who disappeared in 2011. However, the press release which explains that the work was "offered" in order to thank Great Britain for welcoming the artist and his family when they fled Germany in 1933 (the painter became an English citizen in 1939) is not quite true since this is in fact "payment in lieu" and not a donation (this point is also emphasized in Bendor Grosvenor’s blog). Besides this painting turned over to the National Gallery, three posthumous bronzes by Edgar Degas are also part of this acceptance in lieu and are temporarily residing at the Courtauld Gallery before being permanently allocated to the museum : they include Horse Galloping on its Right Foot, The Masseuse and a Portrait of a Woman, her Head Leaning on her Left Hand.

The Corot canvas was acquired by Freud in 2001, probably at a Christie’s auction on 9 May in New York (sold for $2,600,000). It had not been shown to the public since being exhibited at the Louvre in 1962 [1] and will now join the collections at the National Gallery which already holds many works by the master, essentially landscapes.

Also entitled Woman with a Yellow Sleeve, the work was painted around 1870, not in Italy but in the artist’s Parisian studio where he had his models don all sorts of costumes. The figure of the Italian woman thus returns several times in his oeuvre ; she is sometimes seen sitting in an interior or standing, by a fountain, against a landscaped background, with the same distracted gesture of the hand. In his last years, from 1860-1870, Corot multiplied these silent evocations of solitary women, but did not show them at the Salon, except for the attentive reader at the Metropolitan in New York. Comparable to the meditative Italian of the National Gallery, a dreamier looking reader can be found at the Art Institute in Chicago ; known as the woman with the pearl, the one at the Louvre completes the series : all three are shown sitting down, in three quarter view to the waist, with a thoughtful look to their faces. Among these figures by Corot, the Italian woman is the most Raphaelesque, recalling notably the portrait of Bindo Altoviti painted around 1515. The Metropolitan holds a very similar portrait to the one in London, The Sybil, less accomplished, more of a sketch. The entry also points out that Corot had first planned to represent a woman musician, playing the cello ; finally, he placed a rose in the hands of the woman in New York, and then nothing at all in the one in London, focusing rather on the instant in which this figure is daydreaming and time seemingly suspended.

Version française

Bénédicte Bonnet Saint-Georges, mardi 5 février 2013


[1] Figures de Corot, June-September 1962, Paris, Musée du Louvre.

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