The National Gallery of Art in Washington presents 44 engaging portraits of women by the celebrated French artist.
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875), a master landscape artist, was renowned for his representation of natural light and realistic pastoral settings. During the course of his long career spanning the 1830s to the 1870s, he relaxed his precise technique and painted in a looser style reflecting the beginnings of early impressionism. He was praised by Degas, Cézanne, and others; Monet said, “There is only one master here — Corot.”
This unique exhibition offers examples of Corot’s lesser-known portraits. He masterfully captures the delicate features of a woman — the soft complexion, the depth of her gaze, the graceful movements — then bypasses their beauty to present them in introspective and unusually somber moods. The models wear muted tones. There are few smiles.
Some of the works capture that intimate moment when the subject turns, in distraction, to an unexpected visitor. In fact, many of the figures in this exhibit are partially or even completely turned away from the viewer, as when the model is seated, painting at her own easel. Are we intruding?
In a captivating painting entitled “Interrupted Reading,” Corot expertly depicts the impatience of a young woman, staring at us as she waits to return to her book.
We also see examples of Corot’s reclining nudes, significant in his era and considered overtly sensual and scandalous. In his painting “Marietta,” the model is actually identified in the title of the piece — shocking for 1843! Ironically, it’s the nude subjects that look directly at the viewer, not averting their gaze as in his other portraits.
National Gallery of Art, 6th & Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC
September 9 through December 31, 2018