Camille Corot
(Paris, 1796-1875, Paris)
A Girl Reading, ca. 1845/50
Oil on canvas, 42.5 x 32.5 cm
Signed lower left: Corot
Robaut 393
Camille Corot is acknowledged to be one of the great landscape painters of the nineteenth century. Far fewer paintings of figures by him exist, and of these the Bührle Collection possesses two very important examples. Looking closely at this one, A Girl Reading, we can see that she is sitting in an artist's studio. Clearly recognisable at the right-hand edge of the picture is part of an easel with canvases. Thanks to a drawing of Corot's studio that has survived, the rectangular shape behind the girl has been identified as a cardboard portfolio which is propped against the wall on a chair. The red jacket that she is wearing calls to mind figures in Italian costume, which Corot very much liked to paint. In this painting, however, rather than overtly posing, the artist's model seems to have been observed while reading in a work break. The literary motif is thus subsumed in a scene that is very much part of the artist's daily life. This work is important to the history of the Bührle Collection for another reason. It is one of thirteen paintings that the collector was obliged to return after the Second World War, when it was established that German troops had looted them in occupied France. Some of them he then bought a second time. His first purchase of Corot's painting A Girl Reading had been in 1942, from an art dealer in Lucerne, Switzerland. After the war, Bührle gave it back to its rightful owner, the French art dealer Paul Rosenberg. At the same time, he made Rosenberg an offer to buy the painting once again. This transaction, completed in 1948, marked the beginning of a long business relationship with Rosenberg, who had in the meantime moved to New York.