Pierre Auguste Cot ( Bédarieux 1837 – Paris 1883 ), Ophelia or The meditation
Oil on panel cm 27 x 16 signed ( P A COT ) lower right.
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The figure of a girl, the head surrounded by a little crown decorated with fine gems, the gaze facing the observer, just lifted from the booklet that holds in her hands, stands out on a monochromatic background that exalts the chromatic and chiaroscuro values, lit by a glow of pure light coming from the left side of the anonymous represented space. This is the protagonist of the painting presented here – which we know another version of a larger size – by Pierre Auguste Cot, an artist who, according to legend, loved to wake up at dawn to make the canvas effect of early morning light.
Much of the works carried out by the French master consists of portraits, which won him prestigious commissions and made him important patrons, although he owed much of his fame to some fanciful works that made him famous, such as “The Spring”, where he portrays two young lovers on a swing, or “The Thunderstorm”, masterpieces that now can be admired at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Cot’s compositional technique acts within an all-encompassing academic classicism, where the painter’s different skills blend to create the perfect style, adhering to a rigorous way of painting, following the strict compositional rules of delicacy and color.
Formed first at the School of Fine Arts in Toulouse, then in Paris, where he was a student of Léon Cogniet, Alexandre Cabanel and William Bouguereau, Cot successfully debuted at the Salon of 1863: from 1870 onwards, precisely because of the first striking Parisian success, his popularity grew rapidly, also strong in the protection of his master Bouguereau, with whom he worked side by side for several years, and in particular that of the sculptor Francisque Duret, of whom he became son-in-law after marrying his daughter.
Cot became a member of the juries of Salon and Prix de Rome, reaching a considerable popularity in the late 1870s. Awarding several prizes and medals to the many competitions he took part in, in 1874 he gained the maximum recognition attributable to a French artist: he was nominated Knight of the Legion of Honor, a mention which was the prelude to the assignment of the painting chair at the Académie Julian, where he had, among others, American painters Ellen Day Hale and Anna Elizabeth Klumpke as scholars.