Painters visited Rome and the surrounding countryside to record the natural beauty of the scenery and its antique monuments. The Cascata delle Marmore combines both, having been engineered in the third century B.C. to divert the river Velino into the Nera, a tributary of the Tiber. Corot visited the waterfall in summer 1826, attaining a mastery of plein-air technique that is characterized by the candor, naturalism, and seemingly intuitive structure of this sketch. Corot did not exhibit such informal works, but he tried to infuse the paintings he began to show at the Salon the following year with the same vigorous sensibility.
Corot first visited Italy between December 1825 and 1828 (he returned in 1834 and again in 1843). This sketch was painted north of Rome between July and September 1826, when he traveled through southern Umbria, passing through the villages of Papigno, Terni, and Narni, sketching all along the route. It depicts the Cascata delle Marmore, a waterfall engineered in the third century B.C. to divert the river Velino over the edge of a precipice into the Nera, a tributary of the Tiber. By Corot’s time the falls had become a canonical subject for artists from north of the Alps.
Of the two known drawings and three oil sketches Corot made there, only the present work depicts the uppermost falls alone. This study stands out both for its naturalism and freedom of handling. Formal rigor is seemingly abandoned in favor of an intuitive and assured approach to picture-making—"seemingly" because Corot’s unified treatment of perspective, form, and light are breathtakingly economical and testify to his mastery of plein-air painting at this time (see Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical-Landscape Tradition, New Haven and London, 1991, pp. , 200–204).
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]
Inscription: Stamped (lower right): VENTE / COROT
the artist, Paris (until d. 1875; his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, May 26–28, 1875, no. 283, as "Cascade à Terni," sold for Fr 300 to Robaut); Alfred Robaut, Paris (from 1875); Paul Arthur Chéramy, Paris (by 1878–90; sold on August 18, 1890, for Fr 2,000, to Boussod, Valadon); [Boussod, Valadon et Cie, Paris, from 1890; stock no. 20912; sold on March 4, [?], for Fr 2,000 to Rouen]; H. Rouen; Pierre Dieterle, Paris; [André Pacitti, Paris, in 1963]; [Arthur Tooth & Sons, Ltd., London, until 1967; inventory no. AT 8209; sold on April 10 to Robertson]; Richard J. Robertson, Darien, Conn. (1967–d. 1995; his estate sale, Christie's, New York, November 1–2, 1995, no. 37, to Whitney); Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1995)
London. Tate Britain. "Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism," February 5–May 11, 2003, no. 135 (lent by Wheelock Whitney, New York).
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism," June 8–September 7, 2003, no. 135.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism," October 7, 2003–January 4, 2004, no. 135.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850," January 22–April 21, 2013, unnumbered cat. (fig. 51).
Alfred Robaut. L'Œuvre de Corot: Catalogue raisonné et illustré. [reprint 1965]. Paris, 1905, vol. 2, pp. 46–47, no. 127, ill., calls it "La Cascade de Terni (partie supérieure)" and identifies it as no. 283 in the Corot sale, where it sold for Fr 300 to Robaut, and as formerly in the Chéramy collection.
André Jullien and Renée Jullien. "Les campagnes de Corot au nord du Rome (1826–1827)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 99 (May–June 1982), pp. 193, 201 n. 63.
Gary Tinterow. "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2002–2003." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 61 (Fall 2003), pp. 5, 30–31, ill. (color).
Patrick Noon in Patrick Noon. Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2003, p. 225, no. 135, ill. (color).
Asher Ethan Miller inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 29, 227, no. 27, ill. (color and black and white).
Karen Wilkin. "Homage at the Metropolitan." New Criterion 27 (December 2008), p. 7.
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), pp. 42–43, 45, fig. 51 (color).
The belvedere from which Corot executed this view is seen in three other studies he made at the falls: Cascade of Terni (oil on canvas, 14 3/16 x 12 5/8 [36 x 32 cm], Banca Nazionale del Lavoro SpA, Rome; see Jean Dieterlé, Corot: troisième supplément à “L’œuvre de Corot” par A. Robaut et Moreau-Nélaton, Paris, 1974, no. 6, and Peter Galassi, Corot in Italy: Open-Air Painting and the Classical Landscape Tradition, New Haven, 1991, pl. 259); Cascade of Terni (pencil and white chalk on blue paper, 15 x 12 7/8 in. [38 x 32.5 cm], Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. RF 8901, recto; see Robaut 1905, no. 2559, and Galassi 1991, pl. 260); and Cascade of Papigno (pencil on blue paper, 13 3/4 x 10 1/2 in. [35 x 26.5 cm], dated “Papigno / Septembre 1826,” whereabouts unknown; see Robaut 1905, no. 2508, and Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot dans les collections privées: Peintures, Dessins, exh. cat., Galerie Schmit, Paris, 1996, no. 5, ill.). The remaining view by Corot of the falls is Cascade of Terni (oil, 15 3/4 x 12 5/8 in. [40 x 32 cm], whereabouts unknown; see Robaut 1905, no. 126, and Galassi 1991, pl. 260). No sequence for Corot’s depictions of the falls at Terni has been established.