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La Cigale (The Grasshopper), 1865-1875

Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot

French, 1796-1875
Oil on panel
18-1/4 x 14-5/8 in. (46.4 x 37.2 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

At the end of his life, Corot turned to figure paintings, most often portraying women posed with books or musical instruments in imaginary landscapes. Despite its wooded backdrop, this picture was plainly made in the artist’s studio; the curving outline of a chair back, painted over with greenery, is just visible above the model’s shoulder at right. Pictures of women holding musical instruments and titled La Cigale (The Grasshopper) were common in late-nineteenth-century France. Drawn from La Fontaine’s fable The Grasshopper and the Ant, the title alludes to the fate of one who (like a grasshopper) “sings all summer” instead of preparing (like an ant) for the hardships of winter. By Corot’s time, La Cigale had become a metaphor for the beautiful bohème: a performer, a prostitute, a demimondaine, one who lives with no thought for the future.

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