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: Lindley Bequest Brings Famous French Paintings to Institute


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Through the generous bequest of the late Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley, New York, the Institute has lately become the recipient of a distinguished group of nineteenth-century French paintings. Once part of the collection of Mrs. Lindley’s father, James J. Hill of St. Paul, the group includes two internationally-known paintings by Corot and Delacroix: Le Printemps de la Vie and Le Côte Barbaresque. In view of their great importance, this Bulletin is devoted to these two paintings. Others, of the Barbizon school, will be discussed in a future issue.Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) were contemporaries. Both were fervently devoted to painting and both completed most of their paintings in studios in Paris, achieving popular success in the late eighteen-fifties. Furthermore, they shared a mutual admiration for each other. Without founding schools, they became the two most influential forces in the development of Impressionism and of subsequent styles in French painting. Today, through their works, they hold an equal appeal for us. Despite their similarities, however, Corot was as different from Delacroix in painting and personality as the latter’s traditional opponent, Ingres.Corot was the son of a successful milliner, who gave him an allowance so that he could study, travel, and paint at leisure. He pursued his profession with such serious intent that he led a singularly uneventful life, dividing his time between Paris and Ville d’Avray, and making three short trips to Italy. The combination of formal study in Paris with realistic painters, his trips abroad, and an understanding of such old masters as the Italian primitives, the French classic masters, and the Dutch and English landscape painters, molded his style.Corot always considered himself a landscape painter. In fact, he completed almost three thousand landscapes compared to three hundred figures. He seldom sold or exhibited the latter in his lifetime, but painted them for himself or friends. Today, however, we prize his figure paintings as highly as any of his landscapes. Corot approached figure painting as he approached landscape painting, and the former reflects his three distinct and well-known styles in landscape: his early style of sharp outlines and understanding of the structure of nature and the masses of architecture; his middle style, showing the influence of Poussin’s organization; and his late style of misty landscapes, which attained such popularity after 1850. In recent years we have criticized his late works, but Corot painted good pictures in all three styles and his fame today rests on them.His great figure paintings, such as Le Printemps de la Vie, belong to his late style. The Lindley picture, painted in Corot’s studio in 1871, is one of a series of muses and nymphs painted between 1865 and 1875. Its title immediately suggests the sentimentality of an old man, and the popular taste of the period. Fortunately, Corot’s treatment of the subject saves it from banality, for he has created an exquisite picture from nature and imagination. The painter depicts a young girl who stands in the clearing of a woods, her head modestly lowered as she muses on the flowers which she holds in the caught-up skirt of her long gown. In a general way she must personify the melancholy of the old Corot, who had so loved the spontaneous beauty of the world around him.Corot originally included two secondary figures in the left center of the picture, and evidence of these remains in the first lithographic reproduction of the painting. Apparently they were considered unnecessary and were later covered with foliage, leaving the single large figure to dominate the canvas. Pencil sketches of the model in the same pose are to be found in French collections and, judging from physical resemblance, she must be Mlle. Dobigny, who posed for many of Corot’s figure paintings of the last period. Corot probably gave the paintings to his friends, M. and Mme. Stumpf, whose portrait he painted in 1872. The painting first came to public attention in the Stumpf sale of 1873. It was included in the great Corot retrospective exhibition at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1875, was later purchased by James J. Hill, and was subsequently given by him to his daughter, Mrs. Lindley.In style, Le Printemps de la Vie displays the best elements of Corot’s late manner. Pronounced contours compensate for the clear outlines of his earlier styles, and an almost impressionistic handling of the figure reflects his years of experience in painting. The paint has been applied in a rich impasto. The color, in general, is subdued, with occasional bright accents. The grey-blue sky, the grey-green foliage, and especially the grey-white birch trees, are familiar characteristics of Corot’s late work. These are enlivened by the girl’s salmon-pink dress, accentuated in turn by its black trim. The dots of blue, orange, yellow, and purple, which indicate the flowers in the girl’s skirt and on the ground, provide the accents. Corot’s remarkable handling of the formal elements in this painting makes it one of his greatest figure pieces and place him in the classic French tradition of Poussin and Watteau.Delacroix matured in more sophisticated circles than Corot knew. His father was an important government official and his mother a daughter of the famous cabinet-maker, Oeben. From boyhood, he developed the most cultivated taste in painting, literature, and music. Hugo and Chopin were not only his contemporaries, but his friends and counterparts in other fields. He was, without question, the most cultured painter of his century, and clearly reveals his well-rounded knowledge in the individuality and variety of his work. He was an aristocrat in the sense that he, like Degas, insisted upon quality. He was probably never satisfied with his work, but was always striving for better results. In the end, he became one of the greatest innovators in the history of painting.The technical aspects of his art were influenced by a most catholic taste in old masters such as Veronese, Rubens, and Watteau, and the experiments of such modern masters as Constable and Géricault. However, his use of subject matter, very important in his highly personal art, was determined by his taste in Romantic literature and his interest in the growing French colonial empire. In fact, the growth of this empire was to have a profound influence on his career. In 1832 he was appointed official artist to accompany the Count de Mornay on an embassy to the Sultan of Morocco. This trip provided a storehouse of stimulating motifs and a vivid impression of native color which lasted him the rest of his life.While in Africa, he made countless drawings and watercolor sketches which were to serve as inspiration in years to come. In his studio in Paris, upon his return, he created a romantic world, based on reality, which Paris had never seen. He truly qualified as the leader of the Romantic school in painting.Although it was painted many years after Delacroix’s trip to Africa, Le Côte Barbaresque is one of the familiar and imaginary scenes based on reminiscences of his travels. We know drawings and watercolors of the Straits of Gibraltar and other African scenes which may have served as notes when Delacroix finished the painting in 1853. Although he represented these motifs many times, and doubtless exaggerated them, Delacroix’s disciplined treatment of the subject saves it from the mere picturesque. This discipline was the result of unremitting study of the old masters. In Le Côte Barbaresque, for example, we see his understanding of the composition of Raphael and Poussin. He divides the picture into two halves, crowding the action into one and stretching out an endless waste of rock and sea in the other. His design adds definitely to his interpretation of the movement of the Arabs beaching the ship.His color adds more than his composition. The sky is a clear blue; the sea is divided into three distinct values of blue-green, which indicate depths of water and distance. The rocky cliffs diminish into space, like stage scenery, through the use of contrasting colors. The fortified city, high to the left, breaks up the monotony of the landscape and reflects a variety of subtle colors created by the southern sun. But nowhere does Delacroix use color with greater dexterity than in the figures, which provide the action. The Arabs are painted in very broken color, with accents of white and red, which create the illusion of animation. Delacroix developed this broken color from Constable’s influence and it was one of his main contributions to the Impressionists.It was through his original palette more than through any of his other innovations that Delacroix influenced modern painters. Le Côte Barbaresque is a mature work, and it brings to the Institute a representative example of Delacroix’s contributions to painting, from his romantic subject matter to his theories of broken color and complements.It is certainly one of the most famous of all the paintings collected by James J. Hill. Paul Bourget, French novelist and critic who saw it in Mr. Hill’s house, spoke of it as follows in his Outre-Mer: Impressions of America, published in New York in 1895:
The gallery of paintings which it contains, is mentioned in the guide books. . . . Pictures, pictures everywhere. Corots of the highest beauty. . . a colossal Courbet, the Convulsionnaires of Delacroix, and a view of the Coast of Morocco before which I stood long, as in a dream. I saw this canvas years ago. I have sought for it since in hundreds of public and private museums, finding no book that could inform me who was its present possessor, and I find it here. . . . What ground this canvas covered between the painter’s studio and the gallery of a millionaire on the Western Frontier!
It would be difficult to select two more representative examples by two more important nineteenth-century painters than those included in Mrs. Lindley’s generous bequest. Corot’s late painting of Le Printemps de la Vie, with its perfect balance between the realism of nature and the imagination of a profound old man, and Delacroix’s Le Côte Barbaresque, a romantic interpretation of the beauty of the French colonial empire, provide an important link between the past and the present in the Institute’s growing collection of French masterpieces.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Le Printemps de la vie. Detail. By Camille Corot
    French, 1796-1875. Bequest of Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley
  2. Le Printemps de la Vie by Corot. An important figure painting in the artist’s late manner
  3. Le Côte Barbaresque by Eugene Delacroix, French Romantic painter, 1798-1863. Bequest of Mrs. Erasmus C. Lindley
  4. Le Côte Barbaresque. Detail of the fortified city in background
  5. Le Côte Barbaresque. Detail of Arabs beaching boat
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Source: "Lindley Bequest Brings Famous French Paintings to Institute," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 38, no. 23 (June, 1949): 117-123.
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Added to Site: March 10, 2009