The celebrated landscape painter Corot was among the leading members of the so-called Barbizon school, which was committed to working directly from nature. But he was active at the same time as a painter of dreamlike fantasy landscapes. He undertook several works in response to a production of Gluck’s celebrated opera Orfeo, based on the classical myth of Orpheus—the musician who enchants all his listeners, even animals. The largest of Corot’s Orpheus paintings, exhibited at the Salon of 1861, is today in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The smaller Kimbell painting depicts the beginning of the first act of the opera. Orpheus’s beautiful bride, Eurydice, has just died from the bite of a serpent. In mourning, he plays his lyre to three female companions. He is dressed in ancient fashion, whereas the companions appear more contemporary, dressed in Italian folk costumes.
Alfred Sensier [1815-1877], Paris.
purchased by William H. Vanderbilt [1821-1885], New York, probably in the 1880s;
by inheritance to George Washington Vanderbilt [1862-1914] after December 1885;
on loan from G. W. Vanderbilt to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from c. 1902 to possibly 1920;
by inheritance c. 1914 to Brig. Gen. Cornelius (“Neily”) Vanderbilt III [1873-1942];
by descent in 1942 to Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III (Grace Graham Wilson) [1873-1953], New York, until 1945;
(sale, Parke Bernet Galleries, New York, 18-19 April 1945, no. 136).
(Newhouse Galleries Inc., New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1961.