Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Date with Courbet

Gustave Courbet, Louis Gueymard as Robert le Diable, 1857, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Saturday night I rushed to the Met from work in hopes of getting at least an hour of viewing time. Trying to make it uptown from downtown on a saturday night can be a huge task, especially when there is limited time, cabs are full and trains run less frequent. I was on a mission, I needed to see some Courbet paintings. I needed to get a grasp of the way he handled paint and color.
Gustave Courbet, The Sea, 1873, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
After walking through the first galleries of 19th century French art, where Manets hang in all their glory, I came to the landscape galleries. The first Courbet I saw was The Sea, a moody and intriguing painting with undeniable energy.
Gustave Courbet, The Sea (detail)
Courbet's use of texture is admirable, I could see his use of a palette knife in the sky, quite poetic really.
Gustave Courbet, The Deer, ca. 1865, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Another moody dark painting is this one of two deer. The browns in the background are rich and applied softly, a big contrast to the heavy impasto in the foreground depicting the snow covered ground.
Gustave Courbet, The Deer (detail)
The deer blend in with the dark colors surrounding them, and most of the focus is on the textured snow.
Gustave Courbet, The Deer (detail)
This is the bottom left corner of the painting, where different colors come through.
Gustave Courbet, The Source of the Loue, 1864, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
This is perhaps one of the most stunning paintings I've seen by Courbet. There is a daring way in which he went about painting this canvas. The water of the River Loue comes cascading down to the bottom with such convincing force one can almost hear the roar of the water bouncing of the rocky walls of the cave.
Gustave Courbet, The Source of the Loue (detail)

Gustave Courbet, The Source of the Loue (detail)
Looking at this canvas up close is mesmerizing, layer upon layer of paint can be seen, and what intrigues me most is how did Courbet do it? Was there a palette knife involved, or was it all done with a brush? He is unique amongst painters, his build up of paint is intense, very similar to Rembrandt's thick layers.
Gustave Courbet, View of Ornans, probably mid-1850s, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
This is an early Courbet landscape, it is a bit more delicate and the shapes are more modeled, but it still has some of the paint build up I was hoping to see.
Gustave Courbet, View of Ornans (detail)

Gustave Courbet, Young Ladies of the Village, 1851-52, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
This is the largest Courbet painting on display at the Met, and it is also a great piece. The green used on the ground is beautiful and full of light. According to the Met "when the work was exhibited in the Salon of 1852, critics bitterly attacked it, finding it tasteless and clumsy..."
Gustave Courbet, Young Ladies of the Village (detail)
Was it clumsy because the surface wasn't pristine as Ingres? I find paintings with painterly effects and texture to be more interesting. They have more soul. It is difficult for me to believe that painters such as Courbet, Manet, Pissarro, etc., were criticized during their day, but time has been kind and they are all now seen as incredible artists.
Gustave Courbet, Young ladies of the Village (detail)

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