Exhibition : Corot and his Models at the Musée Marmottan Monet

Interrupted Reading”, Art Institute of Chicago

It is fascinating to think, that at age 74, Camille Corot (1796-1875), renowned for his landscape paintings, created ‘Interrupted Reading’ left, a masterpiece of figure painting. Corot was single minded about painting, declaring as a young man that ‘I have only one goal…in life : to make landscapes. This firm resolution keeps me from a serious attachment…. marriage..’. Indeed, Corot remained true to his word – he never married and he went on to specialise in landscapes, the real hallmark of his career. Yet, as he grew older, he produced more and more figure paintings which he almost never exhibited but many of which were found in his studio on his death. It is this aspect of his work that the exhibition at the Musée Marmottan Monet explores and demonstrates, how in the last years of his career, Corot’s figures gained ‘in freedom and ambition’.

Of course, he did produce figure paintings early on in his career but these were mainly small portraits for an intimate circle of family and friends and not for exhibition. He also undertook figure painting on his various educational trips to Italy but again these were more as models to be used in his landscape paintings. In fact, whilst in Italy in 1843, he painted ‘Marietta’, below, a nude painting which he was very proud of and kept hanging Jean-Baptiste_Camille_Corot_-_Marietta

in his studio. In the mid 1850s, when the artist was in his sixties, he went on to create several more nudes in an effort to show that he was capable of painting more than just landscapes. One such painting, ‘Repose’, on loan from the National Gallery of Art, Washington was exhibited by Corot at the Salon of 1861. It depicts a nude woman lying on the grass with her head turned towards the viewer. Although there is a classical feel to the setting, like ‘Marietta’, the model herself is painted in a realist manner giving the painting a more modern feel.repose-1860

Starting in the mid to late 1850s, Corot started to paint several series of figure paintings such as women at fountains, women in Greek or Italian dress, women reading and even a series of monks, a rare inclusion of the male figure in his figure paintings.

Above left, is an example from Corot’s series of woman depicted in greek costumes and is entitled ‘Greek Girl’, 1870, and on loan from the The Shelburne Museum, Vermont. It is a tender portrayal of a young girl whose pale costume is enlivened by a red belt and a red headscarf which hangs down her back. Her dark eyes are hypnotic and like so many of Corot’s figure paintings, she appears melancholic. Another popular subject matter for Corot were women reading, an example of which is shown above right, ‘Woman reading in the Countryside’, 1869-1870  which is on loan from the Metropolitan Museum New York. This was one of the few figure paintings that Corot exhibited at the Salon and here Corot combines figure painting with landscape painting. Although this is a small painting the figure has a monumental feel to it.

Corot started sketching monks as far back as his first visit to Italy in 1824-1826 and it was a theme he continued right throughout his life. Corot did not usually include men in his figure paintings so his series of monk paintings together with his men in armour series, are an exception in his oeuvre. The monk is usually depicted as a solitary figure often reading or as in the painting above left, playing the cello. This painting, on loan from the Hamburger Kunsthalle, was Corot’s last painting. The painting on the right, ‘Sitting Monk Reading’1850-1855, Louvre, shows a monk totally absorbed in his reading and the painting is executed in a mixture of silvery whites and greys. Corot’s monks appear detached from the world and it has been suggested that they represent the solitary road Corot chose when he resolved to stay single for the sake of his art.

Camille_Corot_-_Woman_with_a_PearlLeonardo da Vinci was Corot’s favourite painter and it is 600px-Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_C2RMF_retouchedclear to see that Corot’s “Woman with a Pearl’ 1868-70, Louvre, is his take on the Mona Lisa. Corot’s model takes up the same three quarter profile as the Mona Lisa with her hands crossed and resting on her lap. Corot does leave the background blank unlike the Mona Lisa who is set against a landscape.

l-Lady-in-BlueThe exhibition ends with what it describes as Corot’s supreme masterpiece ‘Lady in  Blue’, 1874 and on loan from the Louvre. It shows a lady dressed in a magnificent blue dress leaning on a luxurious cushion whose pose allows us to admire the back of her dress with its fashionable bustle. This was Corot’s final figure painting and was, like most of his figure paintings, never exhibited during his life. It was finally presented to the public at the 1900 Universelle Exhibition, 25 years after Corot’s death where it caused a sensation. It is true that Corot didn’t give as much importance, certainly in his younger years, to figure paintings but despite this his output of figure painting is now considered to be the most modern of his oeuvre. The exhibition brings together about 60 of these works and is a great opportunity to see the more private side of Corot and his remarkable figure paintings.




Claude Monet: From Sunrise at the Musée Marmottan Monet to Sunset at the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

I have been living in Paris for over two years now and I still get excited to think that I can stroll to the Musée Marmottan Monet within ten minutes and see the painting which gave it’s name to Impressionism. This painting is of course Claude Monet’s ‘Impression, soleil levant’ (Impression, Sunrise), a beautiful painting executed by Monet in 1872. The subject is the port of Le Harve where Monet had moved when he was a child. It is dawn and the scene is hazy except for the ball of red-orange sun which has started to rise over the port and whose rays are reflected in the motionless water. The viewer is drawn to this red-orange sun ball which stands out against the greyer hues of the rest of the painting. The viewer is further drawn to the small row boats in the foreground the most prominent of which seems to have two figures on board. The rest of the scene which is of the industrialised port seems to fade into the background. The whole effect of the painting is both calm and eerie and despite the industrial setting  of the painting, there is still a sort of beauty about it.

Impression, soleil levant, 1872 by Claude Monet
Claude Monet (1840-1926)  was part of a group of artists who turned their backs on academic painting  which they found restrictive and who instead preferred to paint ordinary everyday subjects often ‘en plein air’ i.e. outdoors. Academic art was more concerned with historical and religious subjects painted in clear lines and contours giving a realistic and fine finish. This was in stark contrast to this new group of artists  whose paintings captured the moment, ignoring linear perspective to portray an impression of the subject. These artists lightened their palettes again in strong contrast to academic art which preferred sombre tones. The academic establishment did not approve of this new style of painting considering the works incomplete and mere sketches. As this esatablishment controlled the Salons (the only way an artist could have his worked viewed), their works were usually rejected by them. Eventually, in 1873 the artists formed a group calling itself The Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors and Printmakers and began exhibiting their own paintings in opposition to the official Salons. Monet’s painting, Impression, soleil levant was shown at the group’s first exhibition held in 1874  where it was ridiculed by the critics. In this vein the critic, Louis Leroy referred to the painting  mockingly as ‘Impressionism’ and the name stuck. Little did Leroy realise that he had coined the name for one of the most famous art movements ever!

Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect, 1880 by Claude Monet

And then, I discovered by chance whilst strolling through the Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de La Ville de Paris, Monet’s ‘Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect) . I had never heard of this painting but I found it  amazing that on my doorstep there was one museum exhibiting Monet’s famous Sunrise and a different museum showing one of his Sunsets. This particular sunset was painted by Monet in 1880 in Vétheuil where he had been living with his family since 1878. The winter of 1879/1880 was one of the harshest in history  with the Seine freezing over. Monet painted over 20 canvases of the changing scenes caused by this weather spell. One of these was Soleil couchant sur la Seine à Lavacourt, effet d’hiver (Sunset on the Seine at Lavacourt, Winter Effect. Lavacourt was a village situated on the opposite side of the Seine to Vétheuil and in winter the sun set behind it. The setting sun on a winters day and all its effect is the subject matter of the painting.The painting has a similar red-orange sun as Impression, soleil levant but the painting is less hazy and eerie in its overall effect. This painting didn’t produce the name for an art movement like Impression,soleil levant did, but it is also a beautiful painting and it is well worth complementing a visit to the Musée Marmottan Monet with a visit to the Petit Palais to view these two paintings on the one day!

Musée Marmottan Monet
Entry to the Musée Marmottan Monet is €11 for an adult so it might be a bit extravagant to visit just to view one painting. So you can take your time at the Musée Marmottan Monet as it is a very interesting museum. It was originally built as a hunting lodge in the 19th century and ultimately purchased by Jules Marmottan who left it to his son Paul, an avid art collector. On his death Paul Marmottan left the mansion to the Académie des Beaux-Arts who opened it up as a museum. The museum was further enhanced in 1966 when Monet’s son Michel donated his own collection of his fathers works to the museum resulting in the museum owning the largest collection of Monet paintings in the world including some amazing lilies  which can still be viewed here today. The museum collection also includes a large body of work by Berthe Morisot the female french impressionist.

Café at the Petit Palais
There is no coffee shop at the museum so when you are finished your visit and you want to see both Monet’s Sunrise and Sunset on the same day, head straight to the Petit Palais where there is a lovely café in the heart of the museum which opens onto a tranquil courtyard and garden complete with colonnades. Entry to the Petit Palais is free so after coffee or lunch, you can simply seek out Monet’s Soleil Couchant (Sunset) and complete the tour!