Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

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Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
Portrait of a Man Seated in a Chair
10 7/16 x 8 1/2 inches (265 x 216 mm); in decorative frame: 22 7/8 x 19 1/4 x 1 7/8 inches
Thaw Collection.

Corot began painting portraits in earnest after returning from his first stay in Italy (1825-28), where he had improved his figure painting abilities. By the time the present drawing was executed, he had gained confidence and developed into a skilled portrait painter. Although figures are present in many of the artist's landscapes, according to Vincent Pomarède, Corot painted no more than fifty portraits throughout his career. The overwhelming majority of the sitters are female, and many of the subjects were close to Corot, including members of his and his friends' families. The portraits are remarkable for their simplicity and the intimacy of the artist's rapport with his sitters. Like these canvases, the artist's drawn portraits mostly depict members of his circle and were done primarily for study and pleasure rather than for the market or as preparatory works
The signature on this sheet is unusual for a drawing but is found on some of Corot's paintings from the 1840s, consistent with the inscribed date of October 1844. Although the organizers of the 1996-97 monographic exhibition observed that Corot's "representations of masculine types were not among his strongest works," this drawing is a notable exception. The robustly sketched sitter faces the artist directly, folding his hands in his lap and clutching a handkerchief. Corot wielded his pencil with verve, describing the sitter's body and hands in swift strokes, using a more delicate touch for his features, and gently stumping the graphite to model the figure.
The identity of the male sitter remains a matter of debate. When this drawing was sold in 1914, it was identified as a portrait of the grandfather of Corot's fellow painter Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867). It was said to have been drawn in Avallon, a Burgundian town in the Yonne department. As Cara Dufour Denison noted, however, Rousseau's maternal grandfather was alive in 1844 but was ninety-four years old. The sitter here appears closer in age to Rousseau's father. Even though Rousseau was from a later generation than Corot's, their mutual interest in landscape and activity at Fontainebleau inevitably led to a friendship. By autumn 1844, Rousseau had begun to be acknowledged as the leading landscape painter of his generation and spent part of the year traveling, executing landscapes in Les Landes and Bordeaux with Jules Dupré. Corot also traveled regularly, and in 1843, he made his third and last voyage to Italy, returning to France the following year. During this period, Corot developed a tremendous admiration for Rousseau's work. In his comments on the Salon of 1853, Corot remarked, "He is an eagle, I but a twittering lark." It would not be surprising that he portrayed a member of Rousseau's family while traveling through Burgundy, but we lack the information necessary to confirm such an identification of the sitter.


Signed and dated at lower right: "C. Corot. / octobre. 1844.".

sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 1 April 1914, lot 16, repr. (as "Portrait du Grand Père Rousseau, dessiné à Avallon, en 1844," oval-shaped); Meyer R. Schweitzer (1912-2006), New York; from whom acquired by Eugene V. (1927-2018) and Clare E. (1924-2017) Thaw, New York and Santa Fe.
Associated names: 

Constantin, Abbé, former owner.
Desrouges, André, former owner.
Schweitzer, M. R., former owner.
Thaw, Eugene Victor, former owner.
Thaw, Clare, former owner.


The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NY, "Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection", 2017. Exh. cat., no. 60, repr.
Stampfle, Felice, and Cara D. Denison. Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene V. Thaw. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1975, no. 78.
100 Master drawings from the Morgan Library & Museum. München : Hirmer, 2008, no. 82, repr. [Jennifer Tonkovich]
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, "Corot," English edition catalogue by Gary Tinterow, Michael Pantazzi, and Vincent Pomarède, 1996-97, under no. 49.