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Corot’s Women

Camille Corot (1796–1875) is best known as the great master of landscape painting who bridged the French neoclassical tradition with the impressionist movement of the 1870s. His figure paintings constitute a much smaller portion of his oeuvre and are less well known but arguably of equal importance to the history of art, in particular for founders of modernist painting such as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.

The exhibition at the National Gallery of Art and its accompanying catalog focus on Corot’s images of women. While these works constitute the bulk of his figural work, only three female figures were publicly exhibited during the artist’s lifetime. Dressed in rustic Italian costume or stretched nude on a grassy plain, Corot’s women read, dream, and gaze, conveying a mysterious sense of inner life. Corot’s sophisticated sense of color and his deft, delicate touch applied to the female form resulted in pictures of quiet majesty.

The exhibition includes some 40 works organized into sections: single-figure bust- and full-length images of women from the 1840s through the 1860s; nudes, both studies and allegories; and Corot’s series devoted to the model in the studio. Catalog essays address Corot’s debt to the old masters, the impact of his figural works on both contemporary and 20th-century painting, the theme of the female figure in Corot’s oeuvre, the relationship of his figural work with his more famous landscape practice, and the effect of his ardent love of reading and symphonic music on his art.