Camille Corot was much beloved during his lifetime for his ethereal, dreamy landscapes that often combined scenes from mythology with a very personal interpretation of nature observed. Claude Monet himself said, "There is only one master here: Corot."
In this painting, the fabled musician Orpheus--who beguiled the Greek gods to allow him to retrieve his beloved wife, who had been fatally bitten by a snake--leads her tenderly from the underworld. In ancient times, it was believed that the deceased continued to exist as spirits, seen here gathered in small groups beneath the delicate trees. Corot, a great music lover, has imbued this work with a sense of melancholy lyricism that hints at the tragic end of the story: Orpheus loses Eurydice forever when he turns to look at her before reaching the world of the living.
The sense of filtered reality is enhanced by Corot's extraordinarily subtle use of color. He strikes a wistfully sweet tonal chord, carefully modulating a narrow range of grays, greens, and blues. Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld looks forward to the artist's signature paintings, the Souvenirs and Memoires, in which Corot removes all narrative elements and lets his landscapes stand as "pure" objects.