Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Camille Corot’s vision revealed in figure paintings

Camille Corot’s vision revealed in figure paintings

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People look at Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Woman with a Large Toque and a Mandolin at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, on September 5. afp

Camille Corot’s vision revealed in figure paintings

WHEN Camille Corot’s figure paintings last went on display more than a century ago, they stunned Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, who paid tribute to the French painter in their groundbreaking Cubist creations.

Through December 31, the National Gallery of Art in Washington is presenting dozens of portraits of women that are some of the most intimate, rarely seen and modern works of an artist celebrated for his dreamy landscapes.

They reveal the 19th century painter as a missing link between the staid formalism of classical and romantic painting with the impressionism and modernism that followed.

The tension of works caught between these radically different approaches is palpable.

‘Experimental’

Here, Corot pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable as a finished painting in ways he never dared with his uber-popular landscapes, of which he created nearly 3,000 – not counting the many forgeries.

“It is a rarefied arena in which he can be more experimental and try out new things,” said exhibition curator Mary Morton, the head of the museum’s department of French paintings.

The show includes works loaned from some of the most prestigious public and private collections in Europe and the United States.

There are nudes – daringly devoid of classical references – almost comical riffs on myths and models, often dressed in Italian “peasant” garb and imbued with a kind of erotic melancholy particular to Corot, complete with nonchalant cleavage.

The pictures are sometimes hazy but the languid faces emerge into sharper focus out of a dark backdrop with near-abstract elements painted with quick, loose brushstrokes.

The sometimes unsettling aesthetics paved the way toward painting for the sake of painting, where a picture that deliberately reveals the artist’s hand is presented as finished without being completely resolved.

Unlike a separate show at the Musee Marmottan Monet in Paris earlier this year, this one focuses exclusively on Corot’s female subjects, apart from a lone picture representing Saint Sebastian.

A portrait that bears the mysterious title of Woman with a Pearl (circa 1868–1870) references both with its title Vermeer’s famous portrait (Girl with a Pearl Earring) and with her unsettling gaze none less than Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Corot created a myth all of his own in an intriguing composition (Bacchante with a Panther, 1860) featuring a child mounted on a panther while a reclining nude dangles a dead bird before the feline’s mouth, the whole thing made even more enigmatic by dark lighting.

Coming full circle, Corot towards the end of his life in the late 1860s and early 1870s depicted his models in studio settings with a hand touching one of his landscapes and the other holding a mandolin, hinting at his love of music.

MOST VIEWED

  • Chinese ‘prank’ threat video is no joke for Cambodia

    ‘Preah Sihanouk province, in the next three years, whether safe or chaotic, will be under my control,” declared a Chinese man in a white T-shirt, as another 19 men stood behind him shirtless, in a video that went viral on social media last month. After the

  • Woman detained for murder of hairdresser over unpaid $1K debt

    A woman has been held in connection with the murder of a 40-year-old widow. The victim’s daughter claims the motive was the suspect’s unpaid four million riel ($1,000) debt to her mother. The 17-year-old girl, Pich Sievmey, said her mother, Koem Yaneang, a hairdresser

  • ABA reports $71.8M net profit

    ABA Bank, a member of the National Bank of Canada group, recorded a net profit of $71.8 million last year, up 55 per cent from $46.2 million in 2017, its annual report released on Monday stated. A rise in the bank’s loan portfolio and the expansion of stated

  • ‘Life goes on’ if Cambodia loses Everything But Arms

    Cambodia's business sector is exploring ways to mitigate any fallout from a possible loss of access to the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement as talks continue before the 28-member bloc makes a final decision. The EU monitoring process is set to conclude in