Corot is not often thought of as a painter of animals because he included them in his paintings infrequently. Yet when they do appear—in landscapes, mythological scenes, and even portraits—they evince a directness and sensitivity commensurate with his treatment of the human form. Close inspection is required to distinguish the dark well of this cow’s left eye from its black coat. Equally if not more illuminating is the attention Corot lavished on her sinuous posterior. The undulating reflection of light on the hindquarters draws the eye to the patch of white underside and the transition to the pink of the udder. The artist’s attention to this decidedly functional part of the animal was hardly unique for the time.
This study has been variously if more or less consistently dated to between 1840 and 1853 (see Provenance and Notes). Robaut’s suggestion of about 1845 may be due to the treatment of a similarly positioned brown and white cow, also depicted before a fieldstone wall, in Norman Farmyard with Two Cows (Cour normande avec deux vaches)
; Robaut 1905, no. 403; sale, Christie’s, New York, May 16, 1977, no. 19). The later bracket date of 1853 given in the atelier sale catalogue may stem from Corot’s stay at Dardagny, Switzerland, that summer and the previous one; on both occasions he met his admirer Charles-François Daubigny, whose Hamlet of Optevoz
, about 1852 (The Met, 11.45.3
), bears some affinity to the present work. Until more solid evidence emerges, however, it is not possible to assign a firm date.
[Asher Ethan Miller 2013]