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Work Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat, "My Hagar"

Department of Prints and Drawings: 19th century

Portrait de jeune fille au grand chapeau 'Mon Agar'

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo T. Le Mage

Prints and Drawings
19th century

Author(s):
Chabod Christine

Although Corot painted no more than fifty portraits, the human figure appears in his drawings and sketchbooks throughout his career. Many of these works were executed before 1845, and all recall the rigor and studied composition of Renaissance portraiture. This relationship was highlighted at the Louvre's Leonardo da Vinci exhibition of 1956, when Corot's Woman with Pearl (RF 2040) was hung in the Grande Galerie, between the Mona Lisa and a drawing by Raphael.

Thwarted love?

The subject of this portrait, depicted here after Renaissance models, was Alexina Legoux, a young milliner who worked for Madame Corot, the painter's mother. Corot probably met her before his first trip to Italy (1825-28) and drew her later. A painted portrait of her in the Louvre (RF 1638), dating from around 1840, shows enough similarities to identify her as the subject of this drawing. The artist's remark to his biographer Étienne Moreau-Nélaton, "She's my Hagar," is echoed in the note "Agar / vers 1830" on the back of the drawing, although its authenticity has been questioned by some experts. This refers to the sad story of Hagar, depicted by Corot in a painting shown at the Salon of 1835 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art). All this prompted Moreau-Nélaton to conjecture the existence of a hopeless love between the painter and the young woman, but sadly no information has come to light to support this romantic and affecting tale, and so, despite the choice of Hagar - a symbol of abandonment and loneliness - as subject, the drawing remains a mystery.

In the footsteps of the Old Masters

In the entirely classical presentation of this portrait, Corot seems to be placing himself in the tradition of the draftsmen-portraitists of the 15th century. The figure, which fills the paper, plays on imperceptibly fine differences between the gray tones of the pencil against the gray of the paper. Shadow and line are of the same shade, deployed in the parallel hatching of varying density that is all that Corot requires to render the interrogative acuity of the eyes, the melancholy of the mouth, and the broken folds of the dress and hat. As in Renaissance portraits, the subject is shown in three-quarter view; the shoulders disappear beneath the draped cloth, while bust, waist, and neck are barely hinted at, more to indicate the volumes, enclosed by a schematic outline, than for any concern for detail. Everything evokes the tradition of German Renaissance portraiture, and the austerity and rigor of the style bring to mind drawings by Holbein the Elder.

Bibliography

Fr. Viatte, Un dessin de Corot : Mon Agar, in Rendez-vous en France, 1988, n 2, pp. 2-3.
A. Sérullaz, De Corot aux Impressionnistes, donations Moreau-Nélaton, cat. exp. Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, avril-juillet 1991, notice 189.
A. Sérullaz, Corot : le génie du trait : estampes et dessins. L'oeuvre gravé et dessiné de Corot, cat. exp. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, février-mai 1996, notice 127.
É. Moreau-Nélaton, Corot raconté par lui-même, Paris, 1924.
A. Robaut, L'oeuvre de Corot : catalogue raisonné et illustré, Paris, 1905

Technical description

  • Camille Corot (Paris, 1796-Paris, 1875)

    Portrait of a Young Woman in a Large Hat, "My Hagar"

    c. 1830

    Alfred Robaut Collection; Adolphe Moreau Collection; Étienne Moreau-Nélaton Collection

  • Graphite on gray paper

    H. 18.4 cm; W. 15.2 cm

  • Gift of Étienne Moreau-Nélaton Collection, 1906

    RF 3352

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

On the reverse, in the hand of Corot (?), crossed out, in graphite; Agar / vers 1830