4 February to 15 May 2011
The ‘dossier' exhibition focuses on Girl Reading, one of an extensive group of major works by Camille Corot (1796-1875) in the Oskar Reinhart Collection ʻAm Römerholz̕. This outstanding canvas is shown in conjunction with other figure paintings and drawings by the artist. A number of selected key works from Swiss and foreign public and private collections document the role of reading as a subject within Corot's oeuvre and provide a representative survey of his figure painting.
The fact that Corot consistently referred to himself as a landscape painter doubtless contributed to the relative neglect of his work as a figure painter. Critics alluded to this area of his oeuvre as an ‘armoire secrète', a ‘secret cupboard', accessible only to a small circle of the artist's friends. Yet Corot was clearly devoted to the genre and there is ample evidence to show that contemporary dealers, art lovers and progressive artists valued his figure paintings.
The exhibition at the Oskar Reinhart Collection ʻAm Römerholz̕ is only the second ever to focus exclusively on Corot's figure paintings. Its predecessor was mounted almost fifty years ago, in 1962, at the Louvre in Paris.
In the 1850s Corot arrived at a very personal interpretation of the human figure, represented in the exhibition by images of people reading. Models - almost exclusively female - sat for him in his studio, clothed in ‘exotic' apparel and furnished with a book, musical instrument or other attribute. The composition and basic mood of the images give expression to the emotional life of these figures, who are idealised but still of this world. Corot's early studies of men and women in peasant costume, his portraits and his depictions of historical figures and interiors all contributed to the genesis of this distinctive view of the human figure. These contributory factors are documented in the group of paintings at the start of the exhibition, which also plot the development of the artist's figure painting throughout his career. That development was by no means smooth, its continuity interrupted by such an exceptional work as the striking nude Marietta (à Rome) of 1843. Three main aspects of Corot's figure painting are represented in the exhibition by La Femme à la perle of c. 1858-68, Le Moine au violoncelle of 1874 and La Dame bleue of 1874. In its combination of an idealised figure and a modern woman, the last of these anticipates subsequent developments in art. A selection of drawings by Corot and paintings by other artists helps to reveal the origins of his style of figure painting. In addition, a number of his landscapes reveal the importance of this main area of his activity to images of figures that were the product of his imagination.
All these topics are examined in detail by leading Corot specialists in the copiously illustrated catalogue accompanying the exhibition.