'I am fine,' Corot wrote to friend in 1872. 'I'm working as if I were seventy...' (Corot, letter to Jean de la Rochenoire, August 29, 1871, quoted in Robaut 1905, vol. 4, p. 345, no.211). During the last years of his life, public affection for Corot had deepened. His popularity had not waned and collectors and dealers alike waited impatiently for his paintings to dry so they could be released from the artist's studio. At the Salon he continued to be a success, although now that he was either on the jury or hors concurs, his work was automatically accepted. The reviewers of the Salon consistently wrote long eulogies on the 'poet of the landscape.'
Corot had become the grand old man of French painting. Young painters such as Berthe Morisot sought out his instruction and approval. Camille Pissaro described himself in his entries to the Salon as 'student of Corot' in an effort to win more respect from his contemporaries, and many others did the same. And unexpectedly, Corot was adopted and admired by the critics of the New Painting: Emile Zola, Theodore Duret and Edmond Duranty all considered Corot to be the progenitor of Impressionism. At one time or another, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir all experimented with Corot's method or technique.
La vache et sa gardienne comes from the twilight of Corot's career. Similar in feeling to Le berger dans un gorge au bord de la mer, also offered in this sale (see lot 139), it too is a virtuoso performance by the grand conductor of the artistic symphony. Here the foreground is also deep in shadow, although it is not clear, as in so many of Corot's paintings, whether the time of day is very early morning or twilight. The pink quality of the light in the sky suggests early morning, as it lacks the golden glow of the twilight pictures. Although the foreground is deeply shaded, the figure of the cowherd is cleverly heightened by her white headscarf, and the same is true for her charge: the white face of the cow grazing serenely to the right of the composition gently draws the viewers gaze. In this painting, Corot demonstrates that even in closing years of his life, he is still an extraordinary artist. The cunning device of the stream running almost straight through the center of the composition creates an illusion of depth which would otherwise be very difficult, given the darkness of the foreground. The lightening of the composition as it recedes into the background further heightens the effect of the landscape receding into the far distance. The characteristic trees anchor the foreground, while the pale palette of the sky, executed in pink, mauve, grey, blue and lavender lend a serenity to the composition which is enhanced by the stillness of the girl and her cow.
This work has been authenticated by Martin Dieterle.