Woman with a Pearl

History

Subject and Iconography

Scientific examination and Restauration work

Louvre Museum, Paris, RF 2040.
Bought with back interest on the Maurice Audéoud Bequest, 1912.
Oil on Canvas, 70 x 55 cm.

History

Corot Salon in Paris Posthumous sale, Paris, no. 166 (Young Woman Sitting with Hands Crossed and Flowers in Her Hair, Jean Dollfus, 4,000 francs) Jean Dollfus sale, Paris, 1912, no. 6 (150,000 francs, Louvre Museum) Bought with back interest on the bequest of Jules-Maurice Audéoud (1864 - 1907).

Subject and Iconography

The title of this painting, which occurs for the first time in the catalogue of the 1889 Centenary Exhibition of French art in Paris, is based on a misunderstanding and remained unexplained for many years. The small leaf decorating the forehead of the sitter has simply been taken to be a pearl. It is one of the most important of Corot's figure studies still in France, and it may possibly show Berthe Goldschmidt, daughter of a dealer in precious fabrics, at the age of perhaps sixteen. The teenage girl is dressed in Italian clothes which the artist had brought back from his trips abroad.

Much has been written on Corot's sources for this picture. The first thought is of course of the Mona Lisa. Corot, after having dressed his model in Italian fashion, uses the position of her hands, her face, her serious expression and her hairstyle. He most certainly had seen the Portrait of a Lady of the Milan Court (Inv. 778) also known as La Belle Ferronnière, a title which Robaut gave to the picture for a short time in his preparatory notes for the descriptive catalogue.

He also uses the expression "La belle ferronnière végétale", by analogy with the type of jewellery, known as a ferronnière", which Leonardo's model is wearing on her forehead. Robaut observes in this connection: "In her hair is a crown of the tiniest leaves of which one stands out from the others, lying on the forehead, and looks rather like a dark [sic] piece of jewellery resembling a "ferronnière". He adds in another note dated April 21, 1892 : "Young woman with a pearl? An odd title, given that it is a leaf".

Writers on Corot have suggested practically all the Old Masters in an attempt to define the decisive influence here, but without total success so much does Corot escape classification. Corot is very much his own man, and he is doubtless offering us here the fruits of a lifetime's research on the depiction of the female form, the subject of all his figure studies, with only rare exceptions.

This painting, entirely in variations of beige, is reminiscent in some ways of Rembrandt. Stylistically, it belongs in the second half of Corot's career and has traditionally been dated to 1869. Baudelaire emphasised the exceptional nature of Corot's work, describing it as a "miracle of the heart and the mind". The picture was copied several times, notably by Eugène Devé, a pupil of Corot, living in Galluis near Montfort-l'Amaury. Corot lent him the painting and he did a copy to the same format in 1874 (now in a private collection), and his wife did a drawing of it.

A wood engraving (30.2 x 23.8 cm, some splitting) by Georges Regnier is now in the Louvre's gallery of etchings and engravings (no. 13951).

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