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 (MMA 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]
Inscription: Stamped (lower left): VENTE / COROT
the artist, Paris (until d. 1875; his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, May 26–28, 1875, no. 373, under "1844-1853," as "La Vache noire," for Fr 101 to Houssaye); Arsène Houssaye, Paris (from 1875); Mrs. Giles Whiting, Scarborough-on-Hudson, N.Y. (in 1962); sale, Sotheby's, Los Angeles, November 13–14, 1972, no. 137, as "A Cow in a Barn," to Whitney; Wheelock Whitney III, New York (from 1972)
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "Corot 1796–1875," June 21–September 22, 1996, no. 110 (as "Vache à l'étable" [Cow in a Stable], or "La Vache noire" [The Black Cow], lent by a private collection, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Corot," October 29, 1996–January 19, 1997, no. 110.
Geneva. Musée Rath. "Corot en Suisse," September 24, 2010–January 9, 2011, no. 14 (as "Vache à l'étable" or "La Vache noire").
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. 57).
Alfred Robaut. L'Œuvre de Corot: Catalogue raisonné et illustré. [reprint 1965]. Paris, 1905, vol. 2, pp. 200–201, no. 559, ill.; vol. 4, p. 235, calls it "Vache à l'étable," and dates it about 1845; identifies it in the 1875 Corot atelier sale as no. 373, with Houssaye as buyer.
Michael Pantazzi inCorot. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1996, pp. 246–47, no. 110, ill. (color) [French ed., "Corot 1796–1875," Paris, 1996, pp. 308–9, no. 110, ill. (color)], dates it about 1840–45; remarks that oil sketches of animals are very rare in the oeuvre of Corot; finds the breed difficult to identify, suggesting possibly a Breton or Fribourg cow, breeds common in both France and Switzerland; makes a comparison with Corot's "Ville-d'Avray: The Pond Seen through the Trees" (R 283; location unknown) from the 1830s.
Paul Lang inCorot en Suisse. Ed. Paul Lang. Exh. cat., Musée Rath, Geneva. [Paris], 2010, pp. 76, 86, no. 14, ill. (color), dates it about 1845.
Jennifer S. Brown. New Acquisitions: Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, 1780–1960. Exh. cat., Shepherd & Derom Galleries. New York, 2012, unpaginated, under no. 8, erroneously locates it in a private collection, New York.
Asher Ethan Miller. "The Path of Nature: French Paintings from the Wheelock Whitney Collection, 1785–1850." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 70 (Winter 2013), p. 45, fig. 57 (color).