Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)

Nymphes et faunes

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Nymphes et faunes
signed 'Corot' (lower right)
oil on canvas
38½ x 51½ in. (97.8 x 131 cm.)
Painted in 1870.
L. Richard; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 7 April 1873, lot 5.
M. Defoer; Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 22 May 1886, lot 2.
with M. Knoedler & Co., Paris, 1887.
Barlett Collection, Boston, 1890.
Fuller Collection, New York, 1912.
with M. Knoedler & Co., New York, circa 1922.
Collection Butterworth; Sotheby's, New York, 20 October 1954, lot 22.
with Wildenstein & Co., New York.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, New York, 22 April 2004, lot 104.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Gazette des Beaux-Arts, July, 1870.
A. Robaut, L'oeuvre de Corot, catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris, 1965, vol. III, pp. 244, no. 2002.
Paris, Salon, 1870, no. 648 (as Paysage avec figures).
Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, 1875, no. 179.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 1883.

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Lot Essay

Corot painted very few grand-scale pictures. Famous for sitting outside and painting from life, Corot produced these large-scale compositions in the winter months, when he could work in his studio and contemplate, through these large canvases, the beauty of nature which had sustained him through the summer. Nymphes et faunes ranks among the masterpieces of these memory pictures.

Corot was also in some sense a theatre director. This characteristic is most pronounced in his large works in which he organizes the composition in terms of light and space as though he was creating a stage-set. This is clearly apparent in Nymphes et faunes.

Apart from the purely formal aspects of the composition, there is always with Corot a deeper sentiment expressed through his art. Corot very often worked or simply walked in the forest at dusk, a time when the last birds were quiet and the nocturnal insects had not yet begun their light chirping. At this moment, filled with admiration for the landscape surrounding him, the artist felt an intense desire to transmit onto canvas this light, the forest, and his deepest emotions. At this brief moment, when the entire universe seemed to be suspended in emptiness, light spirits would come from his brush to fill the void. At first, these figures appear in his paintings as phantoms, almost invisible, and gradually they take their places as players on the stage composed by the artist.

Another characteristic exhibited by Corot in Nymphes et faunes is that his paintings are always in motion: there is clearly a rhythm to the composition which makes the work similar to a well-composed musical piece. In this work, Corot is almost more musician than painter, with his rhythms layered one upon the other, pierced by crescendos. The curtain of trees in the middle-ground are as gentle as the undulation of a great wave, giving their softness to the light and anchoring the composition. Then, in the center of the painting, piercing the soft veil of trees, a single straight tree trunk bursts up through the middle of the painting. The distant horizon appears behind this tree, an invitation to the viewer to travel into the painting and in so doing, pay a visit to infinity.

We are grateful to Martin Dieterle and Claire Lebeau for confirming the authenticity of this painting and preparing this catalogue entry.

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