Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796 Paris - 1875 Paris)
Oil on canvas ; signed "COROT" at the lower left ; 22 x 36.5 cm
Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 1875 (titled La Rochelle. Les tours à l'entrée du port ; au premier plan des tailleurs de pierres) ; Paris, Galerie Hector Brame ; Paris, Galerie Julien Tempelaere, Paris (in 1876) ; London, O'Bach & Co. (ca. 1900) ; Glasgow, Thomas Glen Arthur collection, (in 1902) ; London, Christie's, 20th March 1914 (titled Vue de La Rochelle : les tailleurs de pierres) ; Glasgow, Alex Reid Gallery ; Paris, Galerie Julien Tempelaere (in 1914) ; Paris, Ernest May collection (in 1914) ; Paris, Jacques Ernest May collection ; Santa Barbara, Stephen Hahn collection ; New York, Sotheby's, 13th May 1997 ; Private collection ; New York, Christie's, 30th April 2019.
Exhibition of works by Corot, Paysages de France et Figures (Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, 1930, no. 23) ; Le Divin Corot (Paris, Galerie Alfred Daber, 1951, no. 15, reproduced, titled Vue de La Rochelle, les tailleurs de pierres) ; Santa Barbara Museum of Art (Santa Barbara Museum of Art, on loan from 1991).
Alfred Robaut, L'Œuvre de Corot. Catalogue raisonné et illustré, vol. II, Paris, Henri Floury, 1905, pp. 232-233, no. 673 (reproduced).
The views of La Rochelle can be precisely dated, Corot spent only three weeks there, in August 1851. He brought back, writes his collector and biographer Etienne Moreau-Nélaton (Corot raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1924), "half a dozen small masterpieces" : the best known (and largest) is in the Yale University Art Gallery. The others are smaller but as luminous and with a freer style. Moreau-Nélaton himself donated La Rochelle, entrée du port d’échouage (La Rochelle, Entrance to the Dry Harbour) to the Louvre in 1906.
From left to right, we can see the Lantern Tower, then the Chain Tower and the Saint-Nicolas Tower, which define the harbour entrance ; seen from the Gabut district, still a wasteland at that time, surrounded by the old city walls and the trawler basin, begun in 1807 and completed in 1862. Therefore, this basin is behind the viewer, and the channel that goes from the old port to the ocean runs in front of the Lantern Tower.
The luminosity, the same as we find a century later in Nicolas de Staël's paintings, is truly dazzling, accentuated by the touches of pure white on top of the stone blocks. The painting technique is quickly done, with generous impastos that have been preserved by an old lining operation.
We feel the sun and the light breeze, we guess the enthusiasm of the painter in front of a subject that he discovers and enriches with signs of human activity. We would have liked to hear, a few minutes earlier, the conversation between the quarrymen and Corot setting up his easel...
This peculiar quality, which evokes Corot's Italian years while preparing the arrival of Impressionism, successively seduced Ernest May, a great banker and collector portrayed by Degas in Portraits à la Bourse (Portraits at the Exchange), now in the Musée d'Orsay ; and Stephen Hahn, one of the greatest American art dealers and collectors of the second half of the 20th century, with an eclectic eye because he was one of the first defender of Dubuffet...