Since Corot often repeated compositions and motifs, his works are difficult to date. The present picture betrays similarities to Corot's River with a Distant Tower, also in the Museum's collection, which, on the basis of style, seems to date to the early 1860s. The feathery brushstrokes and lighter palette of this work suggest it was painted later in the decade.
Inscription: Signed (lower left): COROT.
Brébant, Paris; Maurice Gentien, Paris; Michael Friedsam, New York (until d. 1931)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Michael Friedsam Collection," November 15, 1932–April 9, 1933, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Barbizon: French Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century," February 4–May 10, 1992, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. "Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible," March 18–September 4, 2016, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 102).
John W. Mollett. The Painters of Barbizon: Millet, Rousseau, Diaz, Corot, Daubigny, Dupré. London, 1895, p. xi, calls it "The Banks of the Stream".
David Croal Thomson. The Barbizon School of Painters: Corot, Rousseau, Diaz, Millet, Daubigny, etc. London, 1902, ill. p. 29 (lithograph), as "By the Side of the Water".
Alfred Robaut. L'Œuvre de Corot: Catalogue raisonné et illustré. [reprint 1965]. Paris, 1905, vol. 3, pp. 172–73, no. 1709, ill., calls it "Le Batelier dans les roseaux et les paysannes à la rive" and dates it 1860–65; mentions a lithograph by Émile Vernier.
Maurice Hamel. Corot et son œuvre. Paris, 1905, vol. 1, pl. 30, calls it "Les Bords de la rivière".
William B. M'Cormick. "Michael Friedsam Collection." International Studio 80 (November 1924), p. 122, as "The Borders of the Stream".
François Fosca. Corot, 1796–1875. Paris, 1930, pl. 39, as "Les Bords de la rivière".
Bryson Burroughs and Harry B. Wehle. "The Michael Friedsam Collection: Paintings." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27, section 2 (November 1932), p. 52, no. 91, call it "The Boatman among Reeds and Peasants on the Bank".
Charles Sterling and Margaretta M. Salinger. French Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 2, XIX Century. New York, 1966, p. 60, ill., note the similarity of the background in this picture to that in "Le Fagot attendu" (R1696, location unknown), dated 1865–70 by Robaut, and suggest that our picture also belongs to this slightly later period.
Sarah Burns. "A Study of the Life and Poetic Vision of George Fuller (1822–1884)." American Art Journal 13 (Autumn 1981), p. 30, fig. 26, dates it about 1860–70.
Asher Ethan Miller inUnfinished: Thoughts Left Visible. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art [The Met Breuer]. New York, 2016, p. 282, colorpl. 102, notes that X-radiography reveals a painting Corot abandoned of a female figure underneath the present image and that its facture peeks through the current outermost paint layer, leaving an uneven surface.
Comparison of Boatman among the Reeds with another work of the same period, Girl Carrying a Bundle of Twigs (Robaut 1905, no. 1696, as "Le Fagot attendu," ca. 1865–70; whereabouts unknown), reveals that Corot depicted the same scenery from different angles and with variations in the details. This suggests that despite generalized features common to many of the artist's late landscapes, both views are grounded in the close observation of a specific place.
A lithograph after this painting was made by Émile Vernier (see Robaut).