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The Letter

Camille Corot (French, Paris 1796–1875 Paris )

Date:
ca. 1865
Medium:
Oil on wood
Dimensions:
21 1/2 x 14 1/4 in. (54.6 x 36.2 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1929
Accession Number:
29.160.33
  • Gallery Label

    This work owes much of its character to the precedent of the eighteenth-century French painter Chardin. Yet the motif and handling also reflect an awareness of seventeenth-century Dutch painting, particularly Vermeer and de Hooch, whose works Corot could have seen during a trip to Holland in 1854. This picture was probably painted around the time Vermeer’s art was enjoying a revival of interest.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (lower left): COROT

  • Provenance

    Gustave Arosa, Paris (probably before 1872–78; his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, February 25, 1878, no. 13, for Fr 3,300 to Pinart); M. Pinart (from 1878); Mrs. H. O. (Louisine W.) Havemeyer, New York (until d. 1929; cat., 1931, pp. 66–67; 2nd ed., 1958, p. 14, no. 72); her son, Horace Havemeyer, New York (1929)

  • Exhibition History

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection," March 10–November 2, 1930, no. 19 [2nd ed., 1958, no. 72].

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Painter's Light," October 5–November 10, 1971, no. 15.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Barbizon: French Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century," February 4–May 10, 1992, no catalogue.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection," March 27–June 20, 1993, no. A108.

    Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Corot 1796–1875," February 27–May 27, 1996, no. 133.

    Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Corot 1796–1875," June 21–September 22, 1996, no. 133.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Corot," October 29, 1996–January 19, 1997, no. 133.

  • References

    Alfred Robaut. L'Œuvre de Corot: Catalogue raisonné et illustré. [reprint 1965]. Paris, 1905, vol. 3, pp. 60–61, no. 1426, ill., calls it "La Lettre" and dates it 1865–70; erroneously states that it is signed in the lower right hand corner; notes that it sold for Fr 3,300 to Pinart at the Arosa sale in 1878.

    C. Bernheim de Villers. Corot: Peintre de figures. Paris, 1930, p. 61, no. 232, ill., dates it 1865–70.

    "The H. O. Havemeyer Collection." Parnassus 2 (March 1930), p. 7.

    Harry B. Wehle. "The Exhibition of the H. O. Havemeyer Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 25 (March 1930), p. 56.

    H. O. Havemeyer Collection: Catalogue of Paintings, Prints, Sculpture and Objects of Art. n.p., 1931, pp. 66–67, ill., calls it "Figure Piece—The Letter" and dates it 1865–70.

    David Rosen and Henri Marceau. "A Study in the Use of Photographs in the Identification of Paintings." Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts 6 (October 1937), p. 86, fig. 19 (overall and radiograph).

    Preface by Edward Alden Jewell in French Impressionists and Their Contemporaries Represented in American Collections. New York, 1944, ill. p. 97 (color), dates it 1865–70.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The H. O. Havemeyer Collection. 2nd ed. New York, 1958, p. 14, no. 72, calls it "The Letter".

    James Merrill in Corot, 1796–1875. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 1960, p. 12.

    Jean Leymarie. The Spirit of the Letter in Painting. Exh. cat.[Kansas City, Mo.?], 1961, pp. 80–82, ill. (color), suggests the influence of Corot's 1854 trip to Holland on his series of women reading, including this picture.

    Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. "XIX Century." French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 2, New York, 1966, pp. 60–61, ill.

    Richard S. Field Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Paul Gauguin: The Paintings of the First Voyage to Tahiti. New York, 1977, p. 334, under no. 64, fig. 83, notes that Gauguin owned a photograph of this painting, which may have inspired his "Reverie" (Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City).

    Hans-Peter Bühler. Die Schule von Barbizon: Französische Landschaftmalerei im 19. Jahrhundert. Munich, 1979, fig. 35.

    Antje Zimmermann. "Studien zum Figurenbild bei Corot." PhD diss., Universität Köln, 1986, pp. 133, 160, 163, 371, fig. 135, observes that the paintings depicted in the background of this picture define the space as the artist's studio; connects it to the Netherlandish tradition of using the motif of the letter to explore the human psyche.

    Jean Selz. La Vie et l'œuvre de Camille Corot. Paris, 1988, pp. 242–44, ill. (color).

    Susan Alyson Stein in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 249, 286, notes the possibility that it was purchased from Durand-Ruel by Havemeyer in December 1908 or later.

    Gretchen Wold in Splendid Legacy: The Havemeyer Collection. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1993, pp. 308–9, no. A108, ill.

    François Fossier et al. "Corot." Connaissance des arts [special exhibition issue for "Corot, 1796–1875"] (1996), p. 59, fig. 52 (color).

    Michael Pantazzi in Corot. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 401, 406 [French ed., "Corot 1796–1875," Paris, 1996, pp. 468, 471].

    Gary Tinterow in Corot. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, p. xv n. 9, pp. 267, 314–16, 324, no. 133, ill. (color) [French ed., "Corot 1796–1875," Paris, 1996, pp. 330, 376–78, 386, ill. (color)], identifies the chair in this picture as one in the office that opened into Corot's studio, adding that "by locating his scene in the studio he gives it an air at once timeless and responsive to modern trends away from sentimentality".

    Vincent Pomarède in Oskar Reinhart Collection "Am Römerholz" Winterthur. Basel, 2005, p. 330.

    Michael Pantazzi in Corot e l'arte moderna. Souvenirs et Impressions. Exh. cat., Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona. Verona, 2009, p. 28.

    Mariantonia Reinhard-Felice in Corot. L'Armoire secrète: Eine Lesende im Kontext. Exh. cat., Sammlung Oskar Reinhart Am Römerholz, Winterthur. Munich, 2011, pp. 65, 120, fig. 39 (color).

    Kerstin Richter in Corot. L'Armoire secrète: Eine Lesende im Kontext. Exh. cat., Sammlung Oskar Reinhart Am Römerholz, Winterthur. Munich, 2011, p. 77.



  • Notes

    This is one of a number of paintings of seated women in a contemplative cast that Corot produced in the 1850s and 60s. The studio background can also be found in three paintings known as "The Artist's Studio" (Musée d'Orsay, Paris; Robaut 1905, no. 1557; National Gallery of Art, Washington; Robaut no. 1558; and Baltimore Museum of Art; Robaut no. 1559bis).

    Other paintings that include figures shown reading are "Interrupted Reading" (Art Institute of Chicago; Robaut no. 1431) and "A Woman Reading" (MMA 28.90).

  • See also
435976

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