Pierre Auguste Cot's 1880 painting The Storm is an elegant example of naturalism, and a blissfully romantic yet evasive reproduction of the stark sensuality that dare not speak it's name in nineteenth-century French society.
Like his other standout work, Springtime, Cot's taste for the come-hither look transcended all else. Masking his overtly sexual theme, like many other painters, in the Academy-sanctioned classical cloak, Cot was typical in his generation in using the genre of history painting to portray scenes that would have caused uproar if set in the present day. The subject of numerous reproductions, The Storm does not bare the same emotive force in photographs – it is a work that must be seen and felt to understand it's appeal.
Having studied under the great master of French Academic painting, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Cot became a proudly populist artist, pandering to the tastes of the upper echelons of French society. Although criticised upon it's exhibition at the Paris Salon on 1880 as a work of utter conventionalism, most agreed that the work was a triumph of technical mastery, evoking the tranquility and majesty of sensual love. Commissioned by the cousin of the art collector John Wolfe, who had previously bought Cot's Springtime when he saw it debut at the Paris Salon, many speculated on Cot's choice of theme. Many thought at first it to be an imagined reproduction of the Greek myth Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, a popular choice for late nineteenth-century classicists. Never quite agreeing, the theme must have been clear to the patron and regardless of the ambiguity the work became a popular favourite; the subject of photographic, engraved, and souvenir reproductions.
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