Renowned Art
Gustave Courbet Gallery     Prints.     Full biography.
Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) Gustave Courbet was born in Ornans, France. He went to Paris in 1839. Towards the end of the 1860s, Courbet painted a series of increasingly erotic works. His refusal of the cross of the Legion of Honour, offered to him by Napoleon III, made him immensely popular.
Porteuses de Fagots
Grotto of Sarrazine
Standing Female Nude
Bohemienne et ses Enfants
Rock at Bayard, Dinart
Reclining Woman
Woman with a Parrot


French, Franche-Comté region, about 1864
Oil on canvas
19 3/4 x 23 5/8 in.
Signed: G. Courbet (lower left)

The J. Paul Getty Museum has recently acquired Grotto of Sarrazine near Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne, an important painting by French Realist Gustave Courbet. In his radical approach to technique and composition, Courbet rejected the refined style of French academic painting and its rigid parameters for subject matter. Grotto of Sarrazine near Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne demonstrates Courbet's challenge to tradition through the artist's bold application of paint and dynamic composition.

During the 1860s, Courbet often painted caves and similar sites near his home in a mountainous region near Switzerland. The Sarrazine grotto's craggy surfaces and its geological evolution are suggested in his technique. Working in stages with brushes and palette knives, Courbet built up and scraped away paint, working drying pigment into the wet surface. The painting's composition is radically modern, because the artist's perspective appears both near and far. Up close, the cave's natural colors—greens, ochers, browns, whites—and details, such as manmade scaffolding, are singled out. Yet the artist stepped back enough to capture the cave's curving, all-encompassing structure.

Grotto of Sarrazine near Nans-sous-Sainte-Anne complements the Getty's strong holdings of French nineteenth-century paintings, drawings, and photographs. It joins other Courbet works: a painting, Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase, and two drawings, Head of a Sleeping Bacchante and Standing Female Nude.

Courbet's landscapes bridge the work of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Claude Monet. As one of a number of paintings Courbet made of caves, Grotto of Sarrazine anticipates the serial nature of Monet's late paintings, such as Wheatstacks, Snow Effect, Morning and The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light. Similarities can also be drawn in their close-up views and thick application of paint. In its treatment of rural, non-idealized subject matter, Grotto of Sarrazine is also comparable to Jean-François Millet's Man with a Hoe, another Realist picture painted at about the same time. But where Millet's canvas emphasizes the human figure and can be interpreted as a form of social protest, Courbet's focus is on the tangible reality of the empty landscape.
Comments about Courbet

Date:Sunday June 3, 2007 3:33:49 pm MDT
Subject:Gustave Courbet
Message:Gustave Courbet (June 10, 1819 - December 31, 1877) was a French painter.

Born in Ornans (Doubs), he went to Paris in 1839, and worked at the studio of Steuben and Hesse but his independent spirit did not allow him to remain there long, as he preferred to work out his own way by the study of Spanish, Flemish and French painters. His first works, an Odalisque, suggested by Victor Hugo, and a Lélia, illustrating George Sand, were literary subjects; but these he soon abandoned for the study of real life.

Among other works he painted his own portrait with his dog, and The Man with a Pipe, both of which were rejected by the jury of the Paris Salon. However, the younger school of critics, the neo-romantics and realists, loudly sang the praises of Courbet, who by 1849 began to be famous, producing such pictures as After Dinner at Ornans and The Valley of the Loire. The Salon of 1850 found him triumphant with the Burial at Ornans, the Stone-Breakers and the Peasants of Flazey. His style still gained in individuality, as in Village Damsels (1852), the Wrestlers, Bathers, and A Girl Spinning (1852).

Though Courbet’s realistic work is not devoid of importance, it is as a landscape and sea painter that he will be most honoured by posterity. Sometimes, it must be owned, his realism is rather coarse and brutal, but when he paints the forests of Franche-Comté, the Stag-Fight, The Wave, or the Haunt of the Does. He is in his element. When Courbet had made a name as an artist he grew ambitious of other glory; he tried to promote democratic and social science, and under the Empire he wrote essays and dissertations.

Towards the end of the 1860s, Courbet painted a series of increasingly erotic works. While banned from public display, the works only served to increase his notoriety.

His refusal of the cross of the Legion of Honour, offered to him by Napoleon III, made him immensely popular, and in 1871 he was elected, under the Commune, to the chamber. Thus it happened that he was responsible for the destruction of the Vendôme column. A council of war, before which he was tried, condemned him to pay the cost of restoring the column, 300,000 francs. To escape the necessity of working to the end of his days at the orders of the State in order to pay this sum, Courbet went to Switzerland in 1873, and died at La Tour du Peilz, of a disease of the liver aggravated by hard drinking. An exhibition of his works was held in 1882 at the École des Beaux-Arts.

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