In the 1860s and 1870s, Corot painted more pictures whose subject was a human figure than at any other time in his career. He considered these to be very private pictures, and he termed their creation a 'vacation' from his normal routine. Very few of these paintings were exhibited publicly; however, they were very well received by his clients, and they often found buyers as soon as the artist was ready to release them from his studio. Their popularity is further evidenced by the fact that very few were still in the hands of the artist at the time of his death.
While Corot is best known as a landscape artist, the figure paintings must still be considered an important part of his oeuvre. While his landscapes can be considered to be symphonies, the figure paintings are closer to chamber music. La petite Seraphine is a prime example of this aspect of the great master's far-ranging abilities. The artist chooses a palette of softly-muted grays and browns and lavender, punctuated by the bright red of the little girl's headband and the cloth which covers the stack of books on the bedside table. A background of simple forms painted thinly in muted colors forms a neutral backdrop for the almost monumental figure of the child. The broad brushstrokes so expertly rendered create a solidity to the figure that is reminiscent of much more modern painting.
Indeed, in his figure paintings, Corot comes closest to being considered a painter of modern life. The American painter John LaFarge wrote in 1908, '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 the innocence of a Greek, have a quality which has skipped generations of painters' (LaFarge, 1908, p. 162, cited in Clark 1991, pp. 142-3).
Even one of the foremost artists of the Impressionist movement, Edgar Degas, expressed his admiration for Corot's rendering of the human form. Degas, who, 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' (Moreau-Nélaton in Robaut, 1905, vol. 1, p. 336).
We would like to thank Martin Dieterle for confirming the authenticity of this work.