In this small, intimate portrait, the rider, turning to look at the viewer, seems to have been caught unawares. He is Monsieur Joseph Pivot, who was about 50 at the time and a neighbour of Corot in Ville-d’Avray. He frequently rode his horse in a nearby wood where Corot also went to paint, and one day, seeing him ride by, Corot asked him to stop so that he could make a quick sketch of him.
Remarkably, technical analysis of this painting has indeed shown that the image of the man on his horse has been painted on top of an existing landscape. The pale blue paint of the original sky is visible under the thin dark green paint at the top left of the picture. The first landscape was wider in format. Once back in the studio Corot cut down the canvas and finished off the woodland setting, adding the slender curved trunks of the silver birches over the dark green paint.
Monsieur Joseph Pivot (1804–1856), was a neighbour of Corot in Ville-d’Avray, where he owned a villa. He frequently rode his horse in the Bois de Fausses-Reposes, a wood where Corot also went to paint when he returned to the town to stay in the house formerly lived in by his parents. In this small, intimate portrait the rider seems to have been caught unawares. Seated on a dappled grey horse, set against the darkness of the wood, he turns to look at the viewer. His straw hat forms the brightest tone in what is a sombre setting.
In 1873 Corot’s friend and biographer, Alfred Robaut, related how the artist was painting a landscape at the time when his neighbour rode by. Struck by his sudden appearance, he asked him to stop so that he could make a quick sketch of him: ‘Around twenty years ago a certain M P[ivot], owner of a neighbouring estate to that of the Master, was passing by on horseback in the Ville-d’Avray woods in front of our artist, who, in the middle of doing a study, asked him to stop for a moment so that he could do a quick sketch of him.’ When Pivot died, Corot gave the painting to his widow.
Remarkably, technical analysis of this painting has indeed shown that the image of the man on his horse has been painted on top of an existing landscape. The pale blue paint of the original sky is visible under the thin dark green paint at the top left of the picture. The first landscape, which is very different from this one, and a more accurate depiction of the woods themselves, was wider in format, and the canvas was cut down by Corot once he was back in the studio. At this point he probably also finished off the woodland setting, adding the slender curved trunks of the silver birches over the dark green paint. While this equestrian portrait is unique in Corot’s work, he subsequently made a further related painting, The Horseman on a White Horse (about 1853–4, private collection) on which he based two clichés-verre (glass prints), The Little Horseman in the Wood and The Large Horseman in the Wood (both 1854). Corot is probably the best-known maker of clichés-verre, which were popular in the nineteenth century. They were produced by drawing on a piece of glass, which had been coated to make it opaque, and printing the image on light-sensitive paper.
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