P. 160x240mm, S. 265x396mm
Provenance: the Henri
M. Petiet collection, with the HMP wetstamp on the reverse
(not cited in Lugt), and formerly the Eugène Ducasse collection (as shown by the dedication)
etching, circa 1869-70, on medium-fine off-white fibrous Japon ancien* paper with wirelines, the 1st state (of 3), a superb and crisp impression with wide margins, one of the very rare lifetime proofs before the posthumous 1908 edition, printed with selective plate tone, the plate edges wiped clean, signed and dedicated in pencil "en Souvenir du Cher Maître, à mon ami Eug. Ducasse" by Alfred Robaut; a few slight foxmarks, mostly in the margins, and traces of two hinges from an old mount on the reverse, otherwise in excellent condition (as shown by the dedication)
P. 240x160mm., S. 390x267mm.
Provenance: a private French collection, and formerly the Eugène Ducasse collection
These exquisite etchings, Corot's last, are also to be counted among his most important (cf. Roger Passeron 1974**, who, noting the extreme freedom of line, considers Le Dôme Florentin to be a masterpiece). They were furthermore never published during the artist's lifetime, and thus such early proofs are most exceptional, the result of a rather curious history.
According to Alfred Robaut, these two plates (along with one other) were put aside by Corot after having completed the drawing in the varnish ground, yet before etching, and were subsequently mislaid for several years. They were rediscovered in the winter of 1872 by the artist, and given to Robaut, who relates (his unpublished notes, in Delteil):
"On 6 June 73, I went to Salmon's shop to run trials of this plate and the two that follow [i.e. Delteil 12 and 13]. I had him print two impressions on laid paper - from Holland - and five impressions on Chine volant. It was Mr Alf. Delaunay who etched the plates... On 14 November 73, at Cadart's shop, I had two impressions of each plate pulled on Japon." ***
In his catalogue raisonné, the first such work devoted to Corot, Robaut further gives these prints a "RRR" rating, i.e. extremely rare, specifying "quelques épreuves d'essai seulement." Delteil however records some twenty proofs pulled between 1873 and 1890, supposing a certain number of later impressions between Corot's death and the sale of the plate in 1908.
Eugène Ducasse was one of Corot's students, and his collection of the master's prints comprised some of the finest impressions known (for other rare works from this collection, see the Ader Picard Tajan sales at Drouot, 22/2/1984, #73 and 26/10/1988, #30). Given the dedication, it seems clear that the present proofs were offered to Ducasse by Robaut at the time of Corot's death in 1874, and thus correspond to one of the rare lifetime trial proofs printed by Robaut.
* This paper is identical to that of one of the two early proofs of the Dôme Florentin now in the Bibliothèque Nationale (from the Moreau-Nelaton collection, and, formerly, that of Alfred Robaut). Sometimes mistakenly identified as "Chine volant" (cf. the 1991 BN catalogue of the Moreau-Nelaton donation, and that of the 1931 Corot exhibition) because of its fineness, whitish colour, and matte aspect, it contrasts with the heavier weight, the cream-yellow colour, and the satiny aspect of the Japon paper of the other proof.
Thus there are two varieties of Japon in the early proofs, and although Cadart may have used such different papers, the two BN impressions are not printed in the same manner, the first being sharper and more contrasted, the second more heavily inked.
Furthermore, there are known early impressions of these prints on Chine volant properly speaking: the sole proof in the BN of the first plate of this series (Delteil 11, also from the Robaut collection), and the impressions of Delteil 12 and Delteil 13 from the Samuel Avery collection in the NYPL.
It is thus specifically difficult to identify the Cadart impressions. Whatever conclusions may be drawn, it remains that these impressions were considered to be choice proofs by Robaut himself, as witnessed by their presence in his own collection and his moving dedication to Eugène Ducasse.
** Roger Passeron, La Gravure Impressionniste 1974; see also the RMN/BN exhibition catalogue De Corot aux Impressionistes, donations Moreau-Nélaton, 1991, and the BN exhibition catalogue Corot, le Génie du Trait, 1996.
*** "Le 6 juin 73 je fais faire chez Salmon l'essai de cette planche et des deux qui suivent. J'en fais tirer de chaque 2 épreuves sur papier à la forme - de hollande - et 5 épreuves sur chine volant. C'est M. Delaunay Alf. qui a fait mordre les planches... Le 14 novembre 73 j'en ai fait tirer chez Cadart 2 épreuves de chaque sur japon."