Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Property from an Important Japanese Private Collection
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)

Trois paysannes causant dans une cour rustique

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
Trois paysannes causant dans une cour rustique
signed 'COROT' (lower left)
oil on canvas
17 7/8 x 15 1/8 in. (45.4 x 38.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1870.
M. Jaquette, Lisieux.
with Paul Détrimont, Paris.
with Boussod, Valadon et Cie., Paris, acquired directly from the above, 1 March 1893, as Trois femmes; maisons.
Vicomte Philippe de Saint-Albin, Paris, acquired directly from the above, 5 June 1893.
Eugène Le Roy, acquired directly from the above, 1 April 1902.
with Georges Bernheim, Paris, acquired directly from the above, 15 December 1911.
Hector Gustave Brame (1866-1936), Paris, acquired circa 1913.
Paul Brame, Paris, his son, by descent, until at least 1960.
Paul (1907-1999) and Rachel (1910-2014) Mellon, Upperville, VA, before 1966.
with Eugene V. Thaw, by 1973.
Arnold (1902-1982) and Fannie (1907-1988) Askin, New York, acquired directly from the above, 1973.
with Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, by 1989.
with Galerie Nichido, Tokyo.
Private collection, Japan, 1992.
A. Robaut, L'Œuvre de Corot, catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris, 1905, vol. III, pp. 236-237, no. 1991, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, French Paintings from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon and Mrs. Mellon Bruce, 18 March-1 May 1966, no. 3, illustrated, as Peasant Women Chatting in a Courtyard.
London, William Beadleston, Inc., The Askin Collection, 30 March-13 April 1989, also New York, Coe Kerr Gallery, 25 April-17 May 1989, n.p., illustrated.
Yamagata, Sakata City Museum, From Impressionism to the École de Paris, 2002, no. 1.
Ibaraki, Kasama Nichido Museum of Art, Maurice Utrillo and the Fascinating Landscape Paintings, 16 September-23 November 2011, n.p.

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Lot Essay

'Corot is the patriarch of the French landscape,' wrote Jules Castagnary in his commentary on the Salon of 1873. 'He has been painting for fifty years. If fame came late to him, talent did not. When one thinks that the hand that placed these deft touches carries the weight of seventy-seven years, such fortitude comes as a surprise and a marvel. The illustrious old man is the lone survivor of a vanished past' (quoted in G. Tinterow et al, Corot, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1996, p. 350). Fame had indeed finally come to Corot during the mid-1860s, when his annual contributions of landscapes to the Salon were met with wide acclaim from both critics and the public alike. He showed seven important paintings at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 in Paris, for which he received a medal and the title of Officier de la Légion d'Honneur. The Paris dealer Alphonse Cadart had included ten Corots in a group exhibition of French painting that he organized and sent to America the previous year; this important show introduced the work of Corot to viewers in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.

Collectors clamored at Corot's door, and the artist was hard-pressed to meet the demand for his landscapes. These paintings represent a deeply felt and aesthetically refined evocation of time and place, and were prized for their sensitivity and poetry. Théodore de Banville praised Corot in his review of the Salon of 1861: 'This is not a landscape painter, this is the very poet of landscape who breathes the sadness and joys of nature. The bond, the great bond that makes us the brothers of brooks and trees, he sees it; his figures, as poetic as his forests, are not strangers in the woodland that surrounds them. He knows more than anyone, he has discovered all the customs of boughs and leaves; and now that he is sure he will not distort their inner life, he can dispense with all servile imitation' (quoted in ibid., p. 262).

Progressively-minded commentators, as well as painters themselves, acknowledged Corot as one of the significant forebears of the very newest trends, which Edmond Duranty discussed in his seminal pamphlet 'The New Painting,' published in 1876, a year after Corot's death. Duranty stated: 'The roots of the new painting lie also in the work of the great Corot, that man who was always searching, and whom Nature seems to have loved because she revealed so many of her secrets to him' (quoted in the full text version, The New Painting, exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1986, p. 41). Castagnary wrote of Corot following the 1874 Salon, the last to which the painter contributed during his lifetime: 'He told his students, 'communicate your emotion.' How many eyes did he open? How many hands unbind? How many brains set free! And there he is, still standing, still struggling, as young as ever' (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 374).

Interest in Corot's paintings had been growing slowly but steadily in America since the Cadart exhibition of 1866 -- four of the five paintings that were shown in Boston were purchased by collectors there. By the early 1870s there were paintings by Corot in Baltimore, Providence, and further west in Cincinnati and Saint Louis. The artist's work could be found in a half-dozen Philadelphia collections, and New Yorkers had come on board as well. At the end of the decade, Marian G. van Rensselaer proclaimed to the readers of The Century Magazine that Corot was 'one of the greatest landscape painters who ever lived' ('Corot,' The Century Magazine, June 1889, p. 256). Even after Americans developed a taste for Impressionism, thanks largely to the Havemeyers' pioneering advocacy of 'the new painting', enthusiasm among rising and now famous major American collectors for acquiring Corot continued, unabated, into the next century.

Trois paysannes causant dans une cour rustique is a prime example of the tranquil and reassuring images that contributed greatly to Corot's fame at the turn of the century. Pictures of tidy barnyards and kitchen yards appear frequently in the last twenty years of the artist's life, almost always populated with farmyard beasts and peasants going about their chores (fig. 1). These visions of timeless rural contentment appealed strongly to the French sensibility, and their rustic simplicity offered an alternative to the bustle of modern life. These rural scenes were a specialty of the painters of the Barbizon school, and it is with scenes such as Trois paysannes causant dans une cour rustique that Corot most nearly approached the artistic temperament of his contemporaries. There is also a similarity with the painters of the French Realist tradition in the depiction of a simpler way of life. Perhaps in these paintings Corot comes closest to the essence of the paintings of Jean François Millet. While Millet monumentalized the peasant and the nobility of his labor, Corot here has emphasized the peace and serenity of a way of life. Although the emphasis is different, the sentiment remains the same.

Although it cannot be proven that the painters who followed Corot and formed the Impressionist movement saw Corot's farmyard scenes, Camille Pissarro, who exhibited in the Salon during the 1860s as elève de Corot perhaps provides the link between the Impressionists and the earlier master with paintings such as Cour de ferme from about 1863 and Coin de village of 1863 (fig. 2).

Trois paysannes causant dans un cour rustique boasts a complete and distinguished provenance. At the end of the 19th century, the work passed through the hands of the most prestigious art dealers in Paris; Boussod, Valadon et Cie. and Georges Berheim. At the turn of the 20th century, it graced the private collection of Hector Brame, another prominent Parisian art dealer and known connoisseur, whose merger with Jean Lorenceau created Brame & Lorenceau. The painting remained in the Brame family until the early 1960s, when it became part of the collection of Paul Mellon, the American philanthropist, horse breeder and Ambassador to the Court of St. James's. The work was exhibited at the National Gallery of Art as part of the Mellon collection in Washington D.C. in 1966.

(fig. 1): Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Cour d'une maison de paysans aux environs de Paris, c. 1865-70. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

(fig. 2): Camille Pissarro, Coin de village, 1863.

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