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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
The Desmarais Collection: A pied-à-terre in New York
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)

La Zingara

Details
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875)
La Zingara
signed 'COROT' (upper right)
oil on canvas
22 7/8 x 16 ¾ in. (58.1 x 42.6 cm.)
Painted circa 1865.
Provenance
Madame Farochon, by 1875.
with Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris.
with Paul Rosenberg & Co., Paris and New York, acquired from the above, by at least 1942.
with Galerie Beyeler, Basel, acquired from the above, November 1959.
Dr. and Mrs. Alfred Hausamann, Zürich, by 1960.
Private collection, Switzerland.
with Alex Reid & Lefevre, London, by 1993.
with Galerie Schmidt, Paris, by early 1996.
with Alex Reid & Lefevre, London.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, 3 November 1999.
Literature
A. Robaut, L'Œuvre de Corot: catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris, 1905, vol. III, pp. 52-53, no. 1387, illustrated.
C. Bernheim de Villers, Corot, Peintre de figures, Paris, 1930, no. 219.
G. Tinterow, M. Pantazzi, and V. Pomarède, Corot, exh. cat., Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 27 February-27 May 1996, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 21 June-22 September 1996, and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 29 October 1996-19 January 1997, p. 333.
Exhibited
Paris, École nationale des Beaux-Arts, Exposition de l'oeuvre de Corot à l'École nationale des Beaux-Arts, 1875, no. 213, as Zingara.
Zürich, Kunsthaus Zürich, Camille Corot, 1796-1875, 16 August-7 October 1934, p. 37, no. 99.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Loan Exhibition of Figure and Landscape Paintings by J. B. C. Corot, 12 November-1 December 1934, no. 18, illustrated.
Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum, French Art of the Nineteenth Century, July-August 1942, p. 6, as Zingara.
Glens Falls, NY, Crandall Free Public Library, An Exhibition of European Painting, Drawing, and Prints of the Nineteenth Century, 21 September-10 October 1942, p. 4, no. 8, as Zingara.
Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Corot, 1796–1875, 11 May–16 June 1946, p. 37, no. 44, illustrated.
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Paintings by Corot, 1796-1875, 10 March-27 March 1947, no. 8, illustrated.
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Exhibition of 19th and 20th Century French Paintings, January 1956, no. 6, as Zingara.
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Loan exhibition of paintings by J. B. C. Corot, 5 November-1 December 1956, pp. 11, 25, no. 24, illustrated.
Bern, Kunstmuseum Bern, Corot, 23 January-13 March 1960, no. 73, illustrated, as Zigeunerin.
Schaffhausen, Museum zu Allerheiligen, Die Welt des Impressionismus, 29 June-29 September 1963, no. 18, illustrated.
London, Alex Reid & Lefevre Ltd., Important XIX & XX Century Paintings, 10 November-3 December 1993, pp. 3, 8-9, no. 3, illustrated.
Paris, Galerie Schmidt, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot dans les collections privées, 24 April-9 July 1996, no. 38, illustrated.
New York, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Late Paintings, 5 December 1996-13 January 1997, pp. 24-25, 44, no. 13, illustrated.
Sale room notice
In addition to those lots marked in the catalogue with the relevant symbols, Lot 211 has a guarantee fully or partially financed by a third-party who may be bidding on the lot and may receive a financing fee from Christie’s.

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Lot Essay

La Zingara is an outstanding example of the classical spirit and poetry of Corot’s finest figural paintings. Even though Corot himself stated that he had ‘but one aim in life and that is to paint landscapes,' he considered the figure paintings to be his most intimate works and kept the majority of them in his studio in his personal collection. His meditative models are, in Pierre Georges words, ‘the image of his dreams in the midst of his memories’ (P. Georges and A.-M. Lecoq, La peinture dans la peinture, Paris, exh. cat., 1982-1983, p. 185). Reverie becomes a leitmotif in Corot’s figure paintings, and it perhaps reveals more about the artist’s character than the landscapes. Although generous and jovial to those who knew him, the pensive expressions of Corot’s figure paintings suggest a more sensitive and melancholy soul. The noisy studio described by his friends and fellow artists seem far removed from the serenity of La Zingara.
During the 19th century, Corot’s figure paintings were largely overlooked as the artist chose to only exhibit four of these during his lifetime. Yet even in his landscapes the painting of the human figure was of fundamental importance in providing the action sentimentale which he considered, following the principles of his artistic predecessor, Pierre Henri de Valenciennes, to be an essential ingredient in the conception of the poetic landscape. In the 20th century, this critical neglect of his figure paintings has been for the most part reversed, and his remarkable melancholic studies of women have been particularly admired and compared to the work of Vermeer. In 1909, the exhibition of twenty-four figure paintings at the Salon d’Automne permanently altered the way Corot’s achievement in rendering the human, and particularly female, figure was appreciated.
Corot may have seen paintings by Vermeer during his trip to Holland in 1854, but his Femme à la perle (fig. 1), painted in direct homage to the Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, suggests that Italian Renaissance painting must have been an equally potent source of inspiration. The classical pose, the modeling of the figure and the vibrant palette evoke both Leonardo and Raphael whose work was considered, then as now, to be the epitome of grace and poetry. As Jacques Thullier wrote, ‘As long as painting searches for the impossible and necessary union of the ‘ideas’ of the painter and ‘natural’ forms, as long as it insists on expressing ineffable visions of the inspired mind in a language as close as possible to reality, Raphael will remain the necessary reference, the point of equilibrium that no one can recapture but that represents the essential experience’ (J. Thullier, in Raphael et l’art français, Paris, Grand Palais, exh. cat., 1983-84, pp. 19-20). The poetry and grace of Leonardo seen in La belle ferronnière (fig. 2), also in the Louvre and almost certainly seen by the artist, must also be viewed as a source of inspiration for Corot’s figurative works with her rich costume, direct gaze and placement in three-quarter length close to the picture plane. The importance of the Renaissance masters to the development of Corot’s figurative works cannot be underestimated. It can be no coincidence that near the end of Corot’s life, Robaut found him asleep over a presentation copy of Arsène’s Houssaye’s book on Leonardo.
After 1850, Corot seems to largely have abandoned conventional portraiture, but contemporaries were struck by the poetic quality of his studies of solitary women painted over a thirty year period from the 1840s to the 1870s. During the 1860s and 1870s, Corot painted more figure studies than at any other time in his career. Robaut catalogued some 145 figure paintings out of about 1,800 canvases painted between 1859 and 1874.
‘This devil of a man,’ observed the critic Hippolyte Flandrin, ‘puts something into his figures which even our specialists in that line have never put into theirs’ (cited in J. Laymarie, Corot, 1985, p. 118). Edgar Degas, when asked to agree that Corot knew how to draw a tree, replied, ‘Yes indeed…and I think he is even finer in his figures’ (E. Moreau-Nélaton, quoted in Robaut, L’Oeuvre de Corot, Paris, 1905, vol. I, p. 336). Corot’s figural works resonated with the artists of the Impressionist movement and beyond, and his young women’s haunting faces found expression in the figurative and abstract work of Picasso, who became interested in Corot in the 1910s, making a free copy of one of his figure portraits (fig. 3). Picasso's contemporary and compatriot, Juan Gris, was also inspired to copy Corot's composition, giving homage to the artist in the title (fig. 4).
Indeed, it is in his figure paintings that Corot comes closest to being considered a painter of modern life. The American painter John Lafarge wrote in 1908, ‘In the same way that the subtleness and completeness of his landscapes were not understood on account of their very existing, the extraordinary attainment of Corot in the painting of figures is scarcely understood today even by many of his admirers and most students. And yet the people he represents, and which he represents with innocence of a Greek, have a quality which has skipped generations of painters’ (J. LaFarge, The Higher Life in Art: A Series of Lectures on the Barbizon School of France Inaugurating the Scammon Course at the Art Institute of Chicago, New York, 1908, p. 162).
During the course of his artistic development, Corot gradually developed the figure from merely populating his landscapes, to a naturalistic device, to finally becoming the actual subject matter of his paintings. La Zingara is a sublime example of Corot’s use of a relatively simple composition, that of a young girl seated in a landscape, to make the human figure the center of attention and at the same time allowing it to appear both natural and poetic. La Zingara is neither a simple portrait of a model nor a depiction of a literary or historical figure. She appears as a synthesis of all young gypsy women.
In La Zingara, Corot has essentially shattered the narrative in favor of a purely painterly execution. Corot painted ‘for the pleasure of painting, for the joy of capturing on canvas a lovely dark gaze or harmonizing the white blouse with the yellow of a sleeve or the red of a skirt’ (É. Moreau-Nelaton, ‘Les figures de Corot,’ L’Art et les artistes, 2 December 1905, pp. 178-179). La Zingara represents the manifestation of Corot’s new-found freedom to render the human figure without hindering his gaze studying the model or his hand translating the experience. His painterly depiction of the pose of the young girl, her hand resting lightly on her green-gold skirt as she finishes her song, the flowers entwined in her dark, flowing hair, the Italianate landscape that enfolds her all become an end unto itself. This young woman is thoroughly modern as she is not placed within a historical context. Much of the power of this painting is embedded in the directness and intensity of her gaze, which is that of a very real woman and not an idealized ‘type’, which creates the unusual intimacy found within this extraordinary painting.

(fig. 1): Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, La Femme à la perle, c. 1868-70. Musée du Louvre, Paris.
(fig. 2): Leonardo da Vinci, La belle ferronière, c. 1490. Musée du Louvre, Paris.
(fig. 3): Juan Gris, La femme à la mandoline, d'après Corot, 1916. Kunstmuseum, Basel.
(fig. 4): Pablo Picasso, Jeune fille à la mandoline, 1910. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image: © SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

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