The Storm

Pierre-Auguste Cot (French, Bédarieux 1837–1883 Paris)
Oil on canvas
92 1/4 x 61 3/4 in. (234.3 x 156.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 827
When Cot exhibited this painting at the Salon of 1880, critics speculated about the source of the subject. Some proposed the French novel Paul and Virginie by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre (1737–1814), in which the teenage protagonists run for shelter in a rainstorm, using the heroine’s overskirt as an impromptu umbrella; others suggested the romance Daphnis and Chloe by the ancient Greek writer Longus. New York collector and Metropolitan Museum benefactor Catharine Lorillard Wolfe commissioned the work under the guidance of her cousin John Wolfe, one of Cot's principal patrons. Like the artist’s earlier Springtime (2012.575), it was immensely popular and extensively reproduced.
The Artist: Pierre-Auguste Cot (1837–1883) came from Bédarieux in Languedoc, a southern province of France. He was a student of the history and portrait painter Léon Cogniet and two of the titans of Academic painting, Alexandre Cabanel and William Bouguereau. His early paintings exhibited at the Salon included portraits as well as mythological paintings and nude studies. Cot’s Springtime (The Met, 2012.575) appeared at the Paris Salon of 1873 and was a great success there and thereafter, fostering many repetitions in almost every conceivable format: paintings, etchings, engravings, lithographs, colored photographs, tapestries, fans, and porcelain. Cot was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honor the next year but chased the legacy of his Springtime fame in the also-widely-reproduced The Storm and then unsuccessfully in portraits of fashionable women ever after, and died in his forties of liver disease.

The Painting: Seven years after painting Springtime, Cot produced what has been called this "spiritual pendant" (Rubin 1980), a canvas that is similarly over life-size. The Met’s great patron Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, the cousin of John Wolfe, then owner of Springtime, commissioned The Storm after having seen Springtime in her cousin’s Manhattan mansion, where he had given it pride of place.

Caught in the midst of a sudden autumn storm, a young couple rushes to find shelter, temporarily shielding themselves from the imminent onrush with a deep mustard-toned fabric with a dramatic reflective sheen quite possibly deriving from the light of the moon. The leaves on the plants by their feet are browning, which confirms the season for their flight. The makeshift fabric umbrella picks up the reddish tones of the girl’s hair. While Cot might have initially sought out the same models seven years after Springtime, he seems to have used different models in the end. However, as in the earlier scene, both figures are barefoot and both have curly locks. Dressed only in transparent drapery in each painting, the girl’s nubile body becomes the star of the show. The boy is in classical garb in both pictures, too; here, a kind of loincloth accessorized with a shepherd’s horn. Instead of swinging on a sunny spring day, the pair in The Storm rush under a makeshift umbrella from a thunderstorm with an ominously dark sky and a bolt of lightning at top right. In subject and style, both paintings owe their origins to Cot’s teachers Bouguereau and Cabanel, who embraced genre scenes and mythological subjects with tidbits of titillation.

Critics at the Salon of 1880, where Cot first exhibited The Storm, were less taken with the picture than the public. Philippe de Chennevières (1880) found it banal, something apart from true art. Similarly, René Delorme (1880) called it a triumph of conventionality and noted that the figures resembled porcelain enamel (most likely referring to their lack of expression). More humorous reactions to it included that of Vast-Ricouard and Gros-Kost (1880), who joked that if the girl were to have encountered a policeman, he would have reported her for running through the fields so academically dressed ("aussi académiquement habillée") in her transparent raincoat. Maurice de Seigneur (1880) responded to the inevitable question of where the couple was headed by stating that they were running after bourgeois success ("après le succès bourgeois"), likely a comment about Cot’s own attempt to rekindle his success with bourgeois audiences in the wake of Springtime’s popularity.

Commentators at the Salon of 1880 found literary sources for the subject in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s (1737–1814) popular French Romantic novel Paul et Virginie (first published in 1788) and the ancient Greek writer Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe (see especially Delorme 1880 and Seigneur 1880). Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s novel tells the story of childhood friends who become lovers. Longus’s fourth-century pastoral tale of another adolescent couple, a shepherd and shepherdess who grew up together, is more overtly erotic. While critics of Cot’s day were unable to determine precisely which literary source inspired the artist, Rubin (1980) stresses that the Romantic novel has more specific relevance to Cot’s pendant images. Paul et Virginie’s inclusion of a scene of teens fleeing a rainstorm, making Virginie’s overskirt into an impromptu shelter from the storm, as well as the novel’s continued popularity in this period (French novelist Gustave Flaubert [1821–1880] named characters after the pair in his 1877 novel Un Coeur simple) give credence to the critics’ identification of this literary source. Delorme (1880) retroactively connected the figures in Springtime to the same novel.

Rubin (1980) also discusses both pictures in the context of Cot’s conscious catering to popular taste, his "ingratiation . . . to bourgeois society" and notes of The Storm that "it exemplifies not the ideals but rather the taste of the period, to which its creator catered so generously." In this manner, Rubin characterizes Cot as a fashionable artist more than a traditional Academician focused on larger ideals to be upheld. These playful images of youth continue to appeal to broad audiences even today.

[Jane R. Becker 2016]
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower left): P+A+COT+1880
Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, New York (1880–d. 1887; commissioned from the artist)
Paris. Salon. May 1–?, 1880, no. 902 (as "L'orage").

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Taste of the Seventies," April 2–September 10, 1946, no. 80.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Impressionism: A Centenary Exhibition," December 12, 1974–February 10, 1975, not in catalogue.

Tulsa. Philbrook Museum of Art. "In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students," September 17–December 31, 2006, no. 20.

Ocala, Fla. Appleton Museum of Art. "In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students," February 9–May 27, 2007, no. 20.

Ph[ilippe]. de Chennevières. "Le Salon de 1880." Gazette des beaux-arts 21 (June 1880), p. 510 [reprinted as "Le Salon de peinture en 1880," 1880], calls it a "vrai pendant" to Cot's "Balançoire" ["Springtime" (MMA 2012.575)]; criticizes its banality, commenting that this picture "n'ont rien de commun avec les inquiétudes et les rudes préoccupations de l'art véritable".

Roger-Ballu. La Peinture au Salon de 1880. Paris, 1880, p. 67, relates the painting to the figures in Cot's "Springtime," 1873 (MMA 2012.575).

Maurice du Seigneur. L'Art et les artistes au Salon de 1880. Paris, 1880, pp. 30–31, remarks upon the popularity of this image, calling the figures Daphnis and Chloë [see Sterling and Salinger 1966, Rubin 1980, Metropolitan Museum Journal]; comments that the couple is running "après le succès bourgeois".

Frédéric de Syène. "Salon de 1880." L'Artiste 1 (May–June 1880), p. 346, comments that if the figures are meant to represent the story of Daphnis, they seem too sophisticated .

Edward Strahan [Earl Shinn], ed. The Art Treasures of America. Philadelphia, [1880], vol. 1, p. 134, ill. p. 125 (drawing after the painting).

Émile Michel. "Le Salon de 1880." Revue des deux mondes, 3ème pér., 39 (May 1, 1880), pp. 682–83, predicts that this picture will be as popular and overexposed as "Springtime" (2012.575).

René Delorme. "La Peinture de genre." L'Exposition des beaux-arts (Salon de 1880). Paris, 1880, unpaginated, ill. (drawing after the painting), interprets the couple as Paul and Virginie [see Sterling and Salinger 1966, Rubin 1980, Metropolitan Museum Journal]; calls it a triumph of conventionality and criticizes the resemblance of the figures to porcelain enamel.

Vast-Ricouard and Gros-Kost. Le Salon Réaliste. Paris, 1880, pp. 62–63, joke that if she were to have encountered a policeman, he would have reported her for running through the fields so academically dressed ("aussi académiquement habillée") in her overly transparent raincoat.

Eugène Montrosier. Les Artistes modernes. Vol. 1, Les Peintres de genre. Paris, 1881, p. 147, calls it "Après l'orage," a scene borrowed from Bernardin de Saint-Pierre ["Paul et Virginie"].

Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer. "The Wolfe Collection at the Metropolitan Museum. I." Independent 39 (November 17, 1887), p. 6.

Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 16 (May 1887), p. 122.

Clarence Cook. Art and Artists of Our Time. New York, 1888, vol. 1, pp. 88–90, ill., states that it was commissioned by Wolfe; considers it likely a depiction of the story of Paul and Virginie "that gives pleasure to a public that likes to be amused, and is not over critical in the matter of probabilities".

C. H. Stranahan. A History of French Painting from its Earliest to its Latest Practice. New York, 1888, p. 411.

Walter Rowlands. "The Miss Wolfe Collection." Art Journal, n.s., (January 1889), p. 13.

"The Catherine [sic] Wolfe Collection of Paintings." National Magazine (July–August 1893), p. 180, criticizes the popular reproductions after this picture.

"The Metropolitan Museum of Art—The French Painters." New York Times (May 22, 1895), p. 4.

Catalogue of the Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1898, p. 157, no. 525, states that it was painted to order.

Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, pp. 82–83, ill., notes that Cot made many replicas of this painting.

"Schrier Painting is Sold for $5,500." New York Times (January 18, 1919), p. 11, writes that the original studies for this painting and "Springtime" (MMA 2012.575) were sold at the John W. Sterling sale for $775 each, to Herbert Day.

Harry B. Wehle. "Seventy-Five Years Ago." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (April 1946), p. 202, ill. p. 212.

Eva Maria Neumeyer. "The 'Jupon Bouffant' in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre's 'Paul et Virginie'." Gazette des beaux-arts 29 (May 1946), p. 301 n. 25, fig. 5, considers it probably related to the "Paul and Virginie" theme; compares it to Prud'hon's "La Vengeance".

Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, pp. 193–94, ill., note that Cot painted it for Wolfe; consider it probable that Cot based the figures on the story of Daphnis and Chloë by the fourth century Greek writer, Longus, but alluded to the scene of Paul and Virginie sheltering under a cloak because of the popularity of this story by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre [published in 1788]; mention the influence of Prud'hon, who illustrated editions of both stories.

John Rewald. "Should Hoving Be De-accessioned?" Art in America 61 (January–February 1973), p. 28.

Carl R. Baldwin. The Impressionist Epoch. Exh. brochure, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. [New York], 1974, pp. 22–23, ill.

James Henry Rubin. "Pierre-Auguste Cot's 'The Storm'." Metropolitan Museum Journal 14 (1979), pp. 191–200, fig. 1, calls this picture and "Springtime" (MMA 2012.575) "spiritual pendants," adding that the success of the earlier painting led to the creation of "The Storm"; reproduces several related drawings; suggests that the subject is more closely based on "Daphnis and Chloë" than "Paul et Virginie"; discusses it as a fashionable image of its time, noting its reproduction in an engraving commissioned by Knoedler and on tapestries, fans, screens, porcelains, and various caricatures.

James Henry Rubin. "Who was Pierre-Auguste Cot?" Nineteenth Century 6 (Spring 1980), pp. 36–37, 39 n. 2, fig. 1, asserts that this painting does not represent academic painting, but rather a "sellout to commercialism supported by unenlightened bourgeois taste".

Hilton Brown. "Academic Art Education and Studio Practices." American Artist 49 (February 1985), pp. 44–45, ill., recalls that in art school, this painting "was consistently shown as the best example of the worst kind of academic painting".

19th Century European Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. Sotheby's, New York. November 1, 1995, unpaginated, under no. 117, reproduces a later and smaller version of this painting.

Carol Vogel. "'Springtime' Rediscovered." New York Times (February 9, 1996), p. C26.

Rebecca A. Rabinow. "Catharine Lorillard Wolfe: The First Woman Benefactor of the Metropolitan Museum." Apollo 147 (March 1998), p. 52, fig. 9 (color).

Important 19th Century European Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. Sotheby's, New York. May 5, 1999, pp. 114–17, under no. 99, fig. 1.

Fred Ross. "The Story of 'Springtime'." Artnet. January 6, 2000, ill. (color) [].

Anne Hollander. Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2002, p. 145, fig. 107 (color), observes that "the fantasy dress of this Arcadian pair suggests the current fashionable conventions for clothing the sexes: the blue sash fastening his brown pelts and hunting horn suggests a blue cravat with a tweedy, brown informal suit, while her busy white non-garment seems to be a see-through version of an elaborate dress".

James F. Peck. In the Studios of Paris: William Bouguereau & His American Students. Exh. cat., Philbrook Museum of Art. Tulsa, 2006, p. 124 n. 3, pp. 126–27, 144, 193, no. 20, ill. (color), calls it Cot's "attempt to duplicate the great success of 'Springtime'"; states that Wolfe purchased it from the Salon; notes the influence of Bouguereau on this picture.

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 444, no. 384, ill. pp. 389, 444 (color).

Cot purportedly made several replicas of this composition, including one sold at Sotheby's, New York on November 1, 1995. Rubin (1980, Metropolitan Museum Journal) reproduces related drawings and mentions an engraving after the picture by Amédée and Eugène Varin.