An oil on canvas with attribution to master Barbizon painter and impressionist precursor Jean Baptsiste Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875). Signed “Corot” to the lower left, and with “Vente Corot” stamp from artist’s estate to the lower right. On verso, the artist’s wax estate seal remains on stretcher, as well as American Art Galleries label from the John H. Converse Collection 1911 sale. The work is housed in an early 20th century gilt and gesso frame, in 19th century period style. A plaque bears the following inscription:
Jean Baptiste Camille Corot
From the Alba B. Johnson Collection
From the John H. Converse Collection
Exhibited Union League, Philadelphia, 1899
A large and substantial example in remarkable state of preservation, “Landscape by the Sea” had had a storied history. When first described by a critic in Philadelphia, covering the “modern pictures” of several noted private collections of that city, “a large, valuable and fine Corot” was first noted in Mr. Converse’s collection (The Times, Philadelphia, PA. 3/11, 1894. Pg. 7). The work offered here is this very picture, which would eventually change hands to much fanfare a handful of times throughout the 20th century.
“Landscape by the Sea” is emblematic of Corot’s mature period, depicting a broad view of peasants in the foreground, a village beyond, and a loose and tonal sky in plein air and realist tones. The sea is visible toward the left side of the work. The composition is one of idyllic grandeur typical of the artist’s large canvases.
The Extensive Provenance of Landscape by the Sea
The John H. Converse Collection
“Landscape by the Sea” was first mentioned as part of the John H. Converse Collection in 1894, in a periodical covering several major Philadelphia collectors. John Heman Converse (1840-1911) was a Vermont native who made Philadelphia his home and his fortune in the railroad industry. He was a noted philanthropist, especially toward Presbyterian causes, and he was not opposed to showing off his collection of paintings by American and European artists. Several periodicals mention Converse’s Collection, and it seems he had a special affinity for the French Barbizon painters.
Exhibited Union League of Philadelphia, 1899
In May of 1899, the Union League of Philadelphia held a special exhibition of “Paintings by Eminent Artists, belonging to a few Citizens of Philadelphia” (Exhibit catalogue, 1899). Converse was a major contributor, and he lent numerous examples representative of the French realists- including Daubigny, Diaz, Jacques and Corot- to name a few. Landscape by the Sea is listed as #170 in the show.
The American Art Galleries Sale, NY. January 7th, 1911
Following Converse’s passing, his Collection of paintings were offered for public sale at the The American Art Galleries in New York, NY. It was a particularly newsworthy sale, and was covered extensively by national periodicals of the time. A total of 67 works were on view for several weeks leading up to the sale. One article covering Converse’s Collection while on view stated: “The private collection of paintings gathered by the late John H. Converse of Philadelphia has been on view in the American Art Galleries. It is an interesting though not a sensational assemblage of pictures, and while there are no star performers, beautiful art is in abundance and not altogether lacking in variety.” (The Sun, NY. 1/3, 1911. Pg. 6). A fully illustrated catalog was produced.
“Landscape by the Sea” turned out to be the star performer. On January 7th, accounts of the auction were covered and picked up by several newspapers. The hammer fell on the Corot for an impressive $20,000.00 to an R.H. Ritter, and was the top lot of the sale. Ritter, a Philadelphia lawyer, was mentioned in several accounts as the successful buyer of “Landscape by the Sea”: “The top price was not a sensational one, $20,000 for the large Corot “Landscape by the Sea”, which is not one of the painter’s lyrics, but is an unusually comprehensive landscape for a Corot. It fell to R.H. Ritter of Philadelphia, who took altogether, fourteen of Mr. Converse’s canvases.” (The Sun, NY. 1/7, 1911. pg. 7)
Another attendee, Alba Boardman Johnson (1858-1935) was noted in several accounts of the auction, as individual buyers of specific paintings were cited by the papers. It seems possible that Landscape by the Sea may have been sold by Ritter to Johnson, or perhaps Ritter was bidding on Mr. Johnson’s behalf, given that Johnson eventually became the owner of the painting.
The Leah Goff Johnson Sale, Samuel T. Freeman & Co, May 1st, 1945
After the passing of Mr. Alba B. Johnson’s wife, Samuel T. Freeman & Co. presided over the sale of the late Mrs. Johnson’s pictures. Once more, “Landscape by the Sea” was the highlight of the sale. On the catalog’s frontispiece is listed “An Important Example by J.B.C. Corot, with the stamp “Vente Corot” (Freeman’s sale catalog, May 1, 1945). The same description as the American Art Galleries catalog was used for the Corot in this auction.
Mr. & Mrs. Alex Rittmaster to Chatham College, September, 1961
“Landscape by the Sea” was likely purchased in the Freeman’s sale by a Mr. Alexander Rittmaster, a business consultant from New York. It was then donated to Chatham College in Pittsburgh, where the Rittmaster’s daughter, Bonnie, was an alumni. Again, the donation was widely covered in Pittsburgh, and a large illustration was included in the Pittsburgh Gazette (September 30, 1961).
Chatham College Sale, October 30, 1987
Chatham College offered the painting in 1987 as part of a fundraising sale to members of the community and alumni. It was purchased by the current owner, and remained in their collection until the present.
Canvas relined, likely in the early 20th century. Stretcher a replacement from the same period, with wax estate seal affixed to stretcher. Several areas of inpainting, notably two areas in upper right center, and lower left center. Otherwise scattered lightly throughout. Signature, estate mark are both clean under UV light.
Sight size- 51" wd, 38.75" ht.