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: Gustave Courbet's Chateau d'Ornans


Charles F. Stuckey



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gustave Courbet’s “Chateau d’Ornans”1The acquisition of a picture by Courbet is always an occasion for celebration. No painter holds a more secure niche in the pantheon of nineteenth-century art. The Château d'Ornans,2 recently acquired by The Minneapolis Institute of Arts and put on view for the re-opening of the Institute's new, expanded galleries, is especially remarkable. The Château d'Ornans belongs to the most active and important years of Courbet's career, years filled with the artist's brash vigor, with his struggle towards recognition for his art and its tenets, and, from our later vantage point, with his most significant masterpieces. The exhibition of the picture is still more important, since, the Château d'Ornans has been hidden from public view for over ninety years. Its reemergence will permit students of nineteenth-century art to gain a fuller understanding of the most vital period of Courbet's career and to see more clearly Courbet's achievement in the painting of landscapes, that aspect of his art which so many of his contemporaries held Courbet to be most gifted.Certainly this lovely picture will receive its share of study from Courbet specialists. Here I can only try to reintroduce the Château d'Ornans after its long absence from public walls. In order to do that I have tried to gather together just what is known about the new Minneapolis picture and its history. I will trace its various public appearances and present once again the reactions it elicited from its early observers. From what is now known of Courbet's life I will suggest as best I can when and where Courbet painted it. Finally, I will attempt to present the case that the Château d'Ornans may have a rather special thematic significance, possibly one which relates it to those works by Courbet which are more familiar to us today. It seems clear to me that only by more carefully studying his landscapes will we be able eventually to own a more balanced and correct knowledge against which to understand and enjoy Courbet's art as a whole.When Courbet first exhibited the Château d'Ornans at the great 1855 Salon,3 in the Exposition Universelle, observers overlooked the painting; in general, they did not single it out for either criticism or praise. Their silence is fully understandable. The focus of attention that season was, of course, scattered widely throughout the international riches being exhibited in Paris. Courbet himself upstaged the Château and his ten other entries at the official Salon when he opened his rather pompously unorthodox private exhibition at 7 Avenue Montaigne on June 28th. There Courbet offered for public view forty of his paintings, including those which the Salon jury had rejected earlier that year. His private exhibition included The Burial at Ornans, The Studio of the Painter, and The Meeting. These large renegade pictures and the unappreciated novelty of Courbet's display outside of the sanction and walls of the official Salon succeeded in bringing his art to the public's attention. The lovely landscape now in Minneapolis, however, did not attract critical response.4 Critics spent their generally unkind or conciliatory words on those giant pictures that have become for recent scholars landmarks in the history of modern art.Among Courbet's critics in 1855 were those who encouraged him to set aside his aspirations for painting large figural compositions and to develop his obvious gift for depicting fresh landscapes. Edmond About, for example, wrote in his Voyage à travers l'exposition des beaux-arts:
It is in landscape painting that the talent of Mr. Courbet displays itself purely and almost without blemish. His grounds are solid, his colors natural, his drawing firm and bold. Look at the Château d'Ornans and Le Ruisseau du puits noir and say whether Mr. Courbet should not rather have attempted to rival Mr. Rousseau than to dispute with Mr. Daumier the palm for caricature.5
And at least one observer noticed something curious and unusual about the Minneapolis painting.
The artist often enjoys recalling scenes or memories that are wholly personal to him. He offered to us a painting which represents, or, rather, pretends to represent, the Château d'Ornans, the habitual residence of the author.That which seems most curious in Le Château d'Ornans is that we were not yet able to discover the Château. We see well the little houses on the height, [and] in the depths of the valley a river bordered by numerous dwellings; in the foreground a fountain at which a woman washes her linen; but the Château? where is the Château?Sometimes Mr. Courbet manages to finish his middle grounds more than his foregrounds. In the painting that concerns us now the trees, the woman in the foreground are barely indicated, while the houses on the hill-top are done completely.6
As we shall see, this critic's puzzlement was not facetious.Courbet exhibited the Château d'Ornans again in 1858 at Bordeaux, Le Havre, Dijon, and Besancon. Evidently he hoped that he could decentralize the Parisian claim to artistic primacy in France and bring his great art to the people with these exhibitions outside of the capital.7 Courbet awaited public, not official, recognition of his paintings.8 According to the entry in the catalogue of the 1858 Besancon exhibition, the Château d'Ornans still belonged to the Mr. Vautherin9 who had purchased the landscape before the opening of the 1855 Salon. Courbet thought highly enough of this picture to bother the owner of it still once more for his famous 1867 exhibition in Paris on the Place l'Alma.10 Among the more than one hundred and fifteen paintings in that extraordinary retrospective the Château again went somewhat unnoticed. The issues of realism, the appropriate subject matter for serious painting, and the propriety of seeking criticism outside of the normal channels were what needed discussion. Courbet's achievements in landscape were not denied on this occasion either. Charles Beauquier, writing in Courbet's native Franche Comté, the province where the artist painted Château, did, perhaps with some local prejudice, comment favorably about the Minneapolis picture.
How he succeeds otherwise with the views of the Comté: Le puits noir, Le Château d'Ornans, La Vallée de la Loue, Les Sources du Lison, how well he knows how to render nature with its power and its profound charm! The brilliant greens, the black waters, the gray rocks, we rediscover them here, alluring with freshness, clarity, and shade, as if the true landscapes of the Good Lord, and capable of giving us nostalgia for the country.11
The Château d'Ornans, then, did receive a fair amount of exposure and quietly found its admirers among those who loved the art of landscape and those who cherished Courbet's beautiful native province in the far east of France.Sometime after 1867 Mr. Vautherin sold his picture to a Mr. Laurent-Richard, a gentleman who had assembled for that date a remarkable collection that testified to the achievements of the modern French landscape school. Mr. Laurent-Richard's collection went up for sale at the Hotel Drouot at the end of May 1878. The exhibition in the sales galleries before the auction enabled the public to see Courbet's painting once again. This time it did not have to compete for attention with Courbet's large epics. In the rather lavish sales catalogue, which included an engraving after Courbet's picture by Eugène Gaujean, Charles Blanc admitted that, “there is a landscapist in our modern school who at moments firsts all the others: it is Courbet.” For Blanc the Château d'Ornans was, “of a magic execution with which the master knew how to interest us in a group of shacks as Vender Mere of Delft alone had been capable of painting in such a prestigious manner.”12 It is not surprising to find praise in a catalogue composed to advertise pictures for sale. Blanc's integrity and knowledge, however, cannot be in doubt, and his allusion to seventeenth-century Dutch landscape painting was appropriate. Furthermore, the picture did bring the very respectable price of 7,600 Francs.13Alfred de Lostalot, who reported the auction for the readers of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts, seconded Blanc's praise: “In effect the moment has come when one can affirm without displaying great boldness that Courbet is one of the master painters not only of the epoch but of all times; we even will add that of all the landscapists who have taken the pencil in hand it is he who comes closest to the true reality, the physical resemblance of the objective characteristics of nature.”14 Later that year when Paul Mantz contributed a serialized article about Courbet to the same publication, he was familiar with the Château d'Ornans because he too had seen it on display at the Hotel Drouot. Mantz's description is quite sensitive: “The meadow, moist and green, is dominated by enormous gray rocks which are like fragments of crumbled mountains: some humble little houses have come to rest their roofs on the plateau formed by these gigantic blocks. If Courbet did not express all the grandeur of this savage site, he has at least rendered it with a strong unity.”15During the same year, 1878, the Count Henri d'Ideville in his study of Courbet paid just attention to the Minneapolis painting. Ideville called attention to the subject matter of Courbet's picture:
. . .the ruins of the old Château d'Ornans, ancient residence of the dukes of Burgundy. The Château was accessible only from the northern side where there were a drawbridge, the entrance portal, and the fore-works. The very thick vestiges of the ancient ramparts, the debris of the towers and bastions, attest to the importance of the Château which was separated from the city by a great rent in the living rock.16
The reader looking at the painting will have difficulty assessing Ideville's remarks, since the bastions and ramparts do not appear there, as, we remember, one puzzled critic had already noticed in 1855. The medieval structure had been for all visible purposes leveled during the seventeenth century under orders from Cardinal Richelieu as part of a military strategy to prevent provincial militias from resisting the French monarchy. Yet, Ideville was correct, I believe, to point our attention towards what the history of the site had been. Those facts could easily have entered Courbet's mind when he chose to paint the Château d'Ornans.In 1882 the École des Beaux-Arts honored Courbet with a posthumous retrospective exhibition, and the Château was included.17 In the catalogue its owner is listed as Mr. Georges Lutz. Lutz enjoyed a fine collection of French landscapes which boasted several other works by Courbet. When Lutz sold his collection in May 1902, however, the Château was not included in the auction. Apparently he had sold the Minneapolis picture privately sometime after 1882 and before 1906 when Georges Riat in his fine biography of the painter reported that the canvas was already in America.18 The Château d'Ornans continued to remain hidden in private hands until nearly two years ago when The Minneapolis Institute of Arts wisely purchased it from Mr. G. Richard Slade.Although Courbet inscribed the Château d'Ornans with the date “1855,” it is possible to speculate about exactly when he painted the picture. We know that the artist left Paris in the autumn of 1853 for a lengthy stay at Ornans. He remained there until the end of May of the following year when he visited his early patron and friend, the collector Alfred Bruyas, in Montpellier. Courbet stayed as a guest until September and returned from Ornans to Paris at the end of November of 1854. The 1854 Salon had been canceled in order to prepare for the large international exhibition of 1955. That gave Courbet about a year and a half to prepare the canvases he would submit to the jury early in 1855, among them the Château d'Ornans.Before he left Paris in 1853 Courbet wrote to Bruyas that he had “begun five or six pictures which will probably be finished by spring.”19 It is unlikely that any of these was the Château, unless Courbet had begun the picture from memory.20 That is not probable. I believe that the painting was not started until the spring of 1854, since the vegetation in the foreground of the painting is decidedly fresh and budding. The young oaks would have been drab or bare the previous winter. Whatever the case, Courbet did not sign the canvas until 1855. That would indicate that he continued to work on it in the spring of that year before sending it to the Salon jury or that he waited until he sent it from his studio before he signed it.21From its appearance one judges that Courbet painted this picture en plein air, out-of-doors. Early one morning he climbed the inclined path that leads one a bit more than two kilometers northeast of Ornans. Leaving the path to his left side he reached a pasture and staked his easel and stool in order to begin work. From his perch he looked left to the little hamlet on the site of the destroyed Château and looked down to the place of his birth. Immediately in the center of the picture in the middle distance one can see Ornans picturesquely straddling the river Loue. Courbet's first home (the present Musée Courbet) is on the far side of the river. Behind the town to the right we can see a sloping hill which the inhabitants call “la roche founaiche” (“founèche”). Directly before him Courbet found the stone basin fed by a rivulet from the side of the hill where his easel stood. The young woman washing her clothes probably lived in one of the houses on the small acropolis known as the “Château” because of the castle that had once been on the site. Perhaps she was there that morning. The basin in the picture and the little archway next to it remain today, although they are dilapidated and overgrown, through disuse. Courbet, however, used a little poetic license in re-arranging them for his painting. He turned the basin parallel to the picture plane and enlarged it in relationship to the archway. Otherwise, allowing for the turning of his head as he transcribed what was before him, looking down towards his left at the “Château” while looking slightly up towards his right, Courbet painted a realistic and candid landscape.Anecdotes about Courbet's method of landscape painting are legion and rather inconsistent. When Courbet visited Francis Wey at Louveciennes in 1849, he had his first opportunity to paint alongside Camille Corot, who was then already accomplished and recognized as the leader of a new era of French landscape painting. A story is preserved that Corot had to change his position several times before he achieved what to him was a suitable point from which to paint the landscape and still create a lovely formal composition. Courbet was not so fussy. He reportedly said “Where I place myself is all the same to me; any location is good as long as I have nature before my eyes.”22 On another occasion, however, in 1862, Courbet amazed his friends in Saintonge by painting quickly a magnificent landscape, general in character, but faithful to the countryside he had ridden through earlier in the day.23 The truth about Courbet's habits of picture making has to allow for both possibilities. Théophile Gautier remembers Courbet disclaiming amiably: “I am objective and subjective; I've made my synthesis.”24It has often been claimed that Courbet was among the first French landscapists before the Impressionists to paint pictures out-of-doors rather than in the studio.25 Although the practice did not have the full blessing of tradition, it was not highly unusual.26 During his schooldays at the seminary in Ornans, Courbet had the informal instruction of one Father Baud, a pupil of Antoine-Jean Gros.27 Baud evidently enjoyed taking the seminary students into the local countryside to draw from nature.28 In relationship to the Minneapolis picture it is interesting to note that the Musée Courbet in Ornans possesses an oil done by Baud about 1835 in which the point of view is almost identical, just slightly lower and thereby not including the “Château,” to that Courbet employed.29 With however great or little care Courbet chose his seat in the meadow above Ornans that morning, the prospect he looked out upon certainly had memories and meanings for him.Surely the Château d'Ornans is a masterful record of Courbet's native countryside and a personal tribute on the part of the artist to the region of his birth. Is the picture, however, more than that? The case for thematic content within the painting cannot be wholly convincing, for we cannot recreate the artist's thoughts, even though it is tempting to try. One would like to think that Courbet's landscapes shared with his great figural compositions a concern with contemporary social conditions. Unless one could demonstrate, however, that over and over again Courbet's landscapes served that purpose, it remains suspect to infer that extra-pictorial concerns entered into the creation of any one if them.30 Knowing that, I wish to present the possibility that the Château d'Ornans has a thematic bias.We have already noted that under Cardinal Richelieu's orders the Château of Ornans was leveled during the seventeenth century. It has been constructed in the thirteenth and had served as the summer palace for the Dukes of Burgundy who controlled the Franche-Comté as a fief given to them by the Crown of France. They held the territory until the Peace of Arras in 1482 when Louis XI dismembered the Burgundian states. The various Châteaux, at Ornans and throughout the Comté, were, one would imagine, monuments to a past of relative independence from the Monarchy. Or one might, as I prefer to do, consider these scanty ruins outside of Ornans as a “vanitas” image, a reminder to the viewer that the splendors of French medieval history had been transient.31 In the real present of 1855 those glories were mute, and the little houses of peasants and common laborers stood where that past had been. The present Courbet knew contained no dukes or duchesses, but plainly a young woman of the working class about her daily chores. In a subtle sense the Château d'Ornans was as much a disclaimer to the scenes of medieval French history one could not avoid at the Salons as his Stonebreakers, as prosaic in its treatment of the past as his Burial at Ornans. In fact, in the leftmost background of the Burial one can clearly see, where a more conventional painter would have included a poetic sunset or a peak pointing the way upwards to the departed soul, the silhouette of the “Château.” It is possible that Courbet was not altogether bluffing Silvestre when he tried to demonstrate that his knowledge of history and philosophy were extensive.32 Late in his life Courbet, who had been exiled from France by the conservative government because of alleged political crimes, commented frequently on the modern political situation; one surviving example may cast light on our discussion.
There was nothing to regret, I believe, for when one sees the men who governed until now and who assumed by their false authority the responsibility of progress and of peoples, one understands that there is nothing to lose when one considers the pretenders of today; on the one side it is Henri proposing the middle ages and the winding sheet of his fathers; on the other the Orleans making parades of hunts, this family of simpletons offer [Henri] their umbrella. On the other hand, M. Thiers, the populophobe, old narrator of history, submits l'article bourgeois de 1830.33
When Courbet wrote these inelegant sentences not long after 1870, the chances for another Bourbon Restoration were quite good, but Henri, the Comte de Chambord, to whom Courbet refers, insisted upon politically unrealistic terms for accepting the throne. He issued a public statement promising that he would return to France only if the nation returned to the political institutions that were valid under Charles X and stressed “a kind of quasi-feudal decentralization” and “bluntly ruled out the tricolor flag in favor of the fleur-de-lis.”34 To Courbet these intrigues must have seemed madness, the foolishness of wanting to recreate the past. One wonders whether in 1854 Courbet's views about French history would have been any less hard-headed. Throughout his life Courbet must have ridiculed the royalist pretenders of modern France not for being merely pernicious and unresponsive to a franchise that included all Frenchmen, but, far worse, for being foolishly theatrical, for stupidly living in the past, and refusing to look at the present day world “realistically” as it is. In my opinion, when in 1949 Courbet chose to paint the “Château” of Ornans in the background of his Burial and when in 1854 he chose it for a subject in itself, he saw the landmark as the embodiment of the present victorious over the past, peasants' houses over feudal ruins, and reality over fantasy.French landscapists contemporary with Courbet chose on occasion to paint their landscapes these old ruined Châteaux that had once served to protect various provinces of France from royal troops. Most familiar to us is probably Corot's Les Ruines du Château de Pierrefonds today in the Cincinnati Art Museum. Corot painted the picture between 1840 and 1845 according to his cataloguer Alfred Robaut.35 Similar landscapes with ruins were popular too during this eighteenth century, especially in the work of Hubert Robert.36 The tradition extends clearly back to seventeenth-century masters, such as Aelbert Cuyp. If Courbet had not begun the Minneapolis picture in the spring of 1854, before he left Ornans to visit Bruyas in Montpellier, one could suggest that Courbet saw in the Musée Fabre in that city Cuyp's Les Ruins du Château de Merwerde and appreciated its beauties and matter-of-factness.37The tradition of landscapes with ruins, images which could indicate to the contemplative observer the power of nature over the vain works of man, is a tradition of which Courbet must have been aware. He must also have realized that certain of his contemporaries, such as Corot, still honored that tradition. During his lifetime Courbet chose to paint similar ruined Châteaux several times. In 1849 he showed at the Salon the Vue du Château de Saint Denis,38 a ruined fortress on the Loue slightly west of Ornans. Another version of the same subject, Vue et ruines du Château de Scey en Varais, Courbet sent to the Salon of 1850-51. The Château d'Ornans continued this theme, even expanded upon it, for instead of a ruined feudal fortress, here was only the memory of one. Among Courbet's first recorded efforts, painted in 1839, was a picture entitled Ruines le lang d'un lac. Later Courbet included in another landscapes the Château Galliard aux Andeleys (1866), the Château de Thoraise, and during his Swiss exile several representations of the Château Chillon. Whether it was a respect for a landscape tradition or merely a visual predilection for those old piles a question that deserves investigation.The Minneapolis painting honors another tradition in addition to that of the landscape with ruins. French landscapists and before them Dutch ones had the propensity for using women doing their laundry as staffage figures. Courbet's little washerwoman is not merely the antithesis of the nymphs and dryads that hover in Corot's forest and lake idylls. She is at the same time the direct counterpart of the staffage figures in, for example, Daubigny's Les bords de la Rivière d'Oullins exhibited in the Salon of 1850-51.39 Laundress as work among the ruins are commonplace in the inventions of Hubert Robert.40 And perhaps it is noteworthy that it was at the beginning of the late 1850s that Daumier turned his interest toward large figural paintings of women carrying sacks of wash. These good women who come to the wells and riversides to accomplish the plainest daily routine contrast markedly with either vanished architectural glories or the splendors of the landscape. They perform their task oblivious to thoughts of grandeur or reverie. On the contrary, their sheets are banners for the cause of objective and simple vision. Courbet insisted upon a view of things and people the way they are, without wishful thinking of a world more rich than the prosaic one which surrounds us.The new Minneapolis picture is a fine witness to at least three aspects of Courbet's art: his sincere attachment to the countryside in which he was born and where he loved to return, his tendency to depict candidly the life of the working class, and his sense of obligation to comment upon the here and now rather than to evoke that which is invisible or disappeared. I believe that the Château d'Ornans is quite important for our understanding of Courbet's art taken as a whole in 1855. We can be certain that for him landscape was a central aspect of his career in that year.41 In his majestic Studio of the Painter, Courbet depicted himself holding court before all those who had been a part of his life up until 1855. In that “real allegory” Courbet sits on his modest throne in the center of his composition before an easel where he applies some last strokes to a landscape of the Franche-Comté. Behind him, as if his muse, stands a naked woman who holds up a long white sheet. As we have already noted, certain of Courbet's contemporaries encouraged him to specialize in landscape paintings, and before the end of the century other observers appreciated Courbet as one of the masters of the entire history of landscape art. Courbet's own predilection for that variety of paintings cannot be doubted. Surely in the Studio Courbet meant to associate himself with what for him was most real and what was of the deepest meaning for him as a painter.42 The Château d'Ornans should remind us again of the degree to which Courbet excelled in landscape and of his ability to see in it the undiluted beauty of matter-of-factness.Discussions of Courbet's art have to steer clear of two dangers. The first is the danger of understanding his realism too literally, of assuming that his objectivity succeeds in removing completely his own personality from his optical experience and of dismissing his art for being, therefore, too prosaic. Joséphin Péladin, writing in 1884, underestimated Courbet's landscapes on these grounds: “He [Courbet] renders that which he sees, but without being able to color it in his personal prism.”43 The second danger consists in soliciting in his pictures illustrations to a preconceived doctrine of social science and political comment. Courbet's associate, the philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, for example, sought the painter's greatness in the subjects he chose to paint. Proudhon's interpretations were criticized by Émile Zola, who rightly reminded us that we should not let our curiosity about content or style impede or distort our enjoyment of Courbet's art simply as the expression of a peculiar vision of this world by a gifted man.
. . .Courbet exists in himself, and not through the subjects which he chose:. . . the object of the person to be painted are the pretexts; the genius consists in rendering that object or person in a new sense, more true or more grand. For me it is not the tree, the face, the scene that one represents to me that touches me: it is the man that I find in the work, the powerful individuality who knew how to create, next to the world of God, a personal world which my eyes will not be able to forget and which they will recognize everywhere.44
Added to the two splendid paintings by Courbet already in the collection of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Château d'Ornans should provide the museum's public with an excellent chance to meet the man in his work.Charles Stuckey is Assistant Professor of Art History at The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. He is currently organizing a symposium on J. M. W. Turner and has in preparation a book on temporal imagery in early nineteenth-century landscape painting.Endnotes
  1. I thank Mr. and Mrs. R. Cusenier of Ornans and Mr. and Mrs. M. Fleuriet of Paris for their help during the summer of 1973 while I was in France studying Courbet. The libraries of The Art Institute of Chicago, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walters Art Gallery, and the Frick Art Reference Library were generous in their cooperation.
  2. 72.66. The John R. Van Derlip and William Hood Dunwoody Funds. Oil on canvas, 32 1/8” x 46”.
  3. Number 2811; listed as belonging to “M. Vauthrain.”
  4. For example, the critics Delécluze, Du Camp, Goncourt, Horsin-Déon, Loudon, Perrier and de la Rochenoire did not mention the Château d'Ornans in their reviews of the 1855 Salon.
  5. Edmond About, Vouage à travers l'exposition des Beaux-Arts (Paris, 1855), p. 205. Théophile Gautier offered Courbet similar advice (Les Beaux-Arts en Europe—1855 [Paris, 1856], II, 155). About refers, of course, to the famous caricaturist Honoré Daumier (1808-79) and the great Barbizon landscapist Théodore Rousseau (1812-67).Rousseau's father came from Besancon, near to Courbet's Ornans, and during the 1830s Rousseau had traveled through the French countryside to find suitable landscapes. These trips included an excursion to the Jura. In short, Rousseau set the precedent for painting pictures of the Franche-Comté landscape. Courbet's Château d'Ornans intended to rival and emulate the work of Rousseau who achieved full recognition only at the 1849 Salon. For Rousseau see Prosper Dorbee, L'Art du Paysage en France (Paris, 1925), pp. 96 ff. (one should note especially the illustration of Rousseau's Les Maisons du Mont Saint-Michel [1832] opposite p. 129); and Robert L. Herbert, Barbizon Revisited (New York, 1962), pp. 174 ff. For Courbet's unrealized participation in an independent exhibition (which was to include Rousseau) in 1847 when both artists' works were rejected at the Salon, see Gerstle Mack, Gustave Courbet (New York, 1951), p. 41.
  6. Ernest Gebaüer, Les Beaux-Arts à l'Exposition Universelle de 1855 (Paris, 1855), p. 131.
  7. Pierre Courthion, ed., Courbet raconté par lui-m'me et par ses amis (Geneva, 1948-50), I, 29-30.
  8. Théophile Silvestre, Histoire des artistes vivantes. Les Artistes francais (Brussels and Liepzig, 1861), reprinted in Courthion, op. cit., II, 44.
  9. Catalogue de l'exposition des beaux-arts à Besacon, . . . d'artistes vivantes (1858), p. 13 (cat. no. 109). The spelling of the name varies. For the 1855 Salon catalogue it was “Vauthrain,” while for the 1867 Courbet retrospective it would be “Vauthrin.” In Robert Fernier, Gustave Courbet, trans. Marcus Bullock (New York, 1969), p. 39, it is “Vauthier.” Fernier claims that Courbet did not part with this painting until 1867.
  10. Exposition des Oeuvres de M. G. Courbet, . . . (Paris, 1867), cat. no. 21.
  11. From the Revue Littéraire de la Franche Comté (1 July 1867), quoted in Robert Fernier, “Le 29 Mai 1867” in Les Amis de Gustave Courbet, no. 38 (1967), p. 6.
  12. Catalogue de tableaux modernes et de tableaux anciens composant la collection Laurent-Richard (Paris, May 23-25, 1878), xiii-xiv. See, too, the comments by Émile Bergerat in his essay (xxxiii) and the description of the painting (p. 9).
  13. According to a notation on a photograph of the Château d'Ornans in the Frick Art Reference Library in New York, the picture was purchased by “Van den Endem.” Probably this refers to Mdm. G. Van den Eynde. She must have sold it to Mr. Georges Lutz, who owned it by 1882. At the 1878 Laurent-Richard auction another Courbet from 1855, Le Ruisseau du puits noir brought 13,100 Francs, a Corot landscape 16,850, a Delacroix 27,000. Considering the rest of the prices, however the Château was very high. For a careful list of Courbet sales and prices see Paul Brune, Dictionnaire des Artistes et Ouvriers d'Art de la Franche Comté (Paris, 1912), pp. 67-70, 288. Brune lists only this one public sale of the Château d'Ornans up until his book's 1912 publication.
  14. Alfred de Lostalot, “La Collection Laurent Richard” in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 2nd Series, vol. 17, no. 5 (May 1878), p. 462. The magazine published Gaujean's engraving after the Château opposite p. 462.
  15. Paul Mantz, “Gustave Courbet” in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 2nd Series, vol. 18, no. 1 (July 1878), p. 19.
  16. Henri d'Ideville, Gustave Courbet: Notes et Documents sur sa vie et son oeuvre (Paris, 1878), p. 5. I believe that the author took his information about the Château from Paul Laurens, Annuaire départmental du Doubs pour 1847 (Besancon, 1847), vol. N-Q, pp. 137-50. Idevilles' remarks were followed in A. Estignard, Courbet, sa vie, ses, oeuvres (Basancon, 1896), p. 46. I was unable to consult A. G. P. de Barante's famous 13 vol. study, Histoire des ducs de Bourgogne (4th ed. Paris, 1826).
  17. Exposition des Oeuvres de Gustave Courbet à l'école des Beaux-Arts May 1882 (Paris, 1882), p. 56 (cat. no. 57).
  18. Georges Riat, Gustave Courbet, Peintre (Paris, 1906), p. 115. See, too, Edouard Sarradin, “Le paysage dans l'oeuvre de Courbet” in Historie du Paysage en France (Paris, 1980), p. 298; and Léonce Bénédite, Gustave Courbet, notes by J. Laran and Ph. Gaston-Dreyfus (Paris, 1912), pp. 63-4, where the painting is illustrated and said to be in an American collection. The painting was reproduced again in Julius Meier-Graefe, Courbet (Munich, 1921), pl. 23, where it is entitled “Landschaft bei Ornans” and no location is given. Riat already distinguished clearly between the Minneapolis picture and another little painting by Courbet which depicts only the cluster of houses on the rock known as the “Château.” That second picture has an equally mysterious provenance, having also come to this country before entering the Bührle Collection in Switzerland. See Sammlung Emil G. Bührle (Zurich Kunsthaus, July 7—end of September, 1958), p. 94 (cat. no. 130). The information in this entry confuses the two pictures. This misinformation was incorporated into Masterpieces of French Painting from the Bührle Collection (London and Edinburgh, 1961), cat. no. 7. The Bührle picture was neither in the 1855 Salon, nor the 1867 Courbet exhibition, nor the Vautherin Collection. Otherwise the entry stands correct.
  19. Quoted in Mack, op. cit., p. 111.
  20. Mack, op. cit., p. 112, feels that Courbet painted the Château during the winter of 1853-54. Brune, op. cit., p. 69 dates the picture to 1854.
  21. It would clarify matters if one knew whether Mr. Vautherin were Parisian, or a townsman of Courbet's from Ornans or Besancon, or a friend of Bruyas from Montpellier. Surely the original owner saw the painting before he bought it, and we know that he bought it before Courbet sent it to the 1855 Salon, although he did not necessarily take possession of it until after the Salon was over.
  22. Mack, op. cit., p. 68.
  23. Mack, op. cit., pp. 166-67.
  24. Courthion, op. cit., I, 28.
  25. For example, Georges Boudaille, Gustave Courbet, Painter in Protest, trans. Michael Bullock (Greenwich, Conn., 1969), p. 42.
  26. For a discussion of plein air painting see Herbert, op. cit., pp. 19-20; and Albert Boime, The Academy and French painting in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1971), p. 154.
  27. Mack, op. cit., p. 13.
  28. Courthion, op. cit., I, 68-69, 207.
  29. For an illustration of Baud's painting see Fernier, 1969, op. cit., p. 59 above.
  30. I know of only two attempts to attach thematic importance to landscape by Courbet: Heinrich Schwarz, “A Landscape by Gustave Courbet” in Museum Notes (Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design), vol. 4, no. 5 (May 1946); and Linda Nochlin, “Gustave Courbet's Meeting: A Portrait of the Artist as Wandering Jew” in The Art Bulletin, vol. 49 (Sept. 1967) p. 213.
  31. For an interesting insight into Courbet's Stonebreakers see Robert L. Herbert, “City vs. Country: The Rural Image in French Painting from Millet to Gaugin” in Artforum, vol. 8, no. 6 (Feb. 1970), p. 47, where we learn that Courbet based the figure of the old man upon Poussin's Et in Arcadia Ego, while the boy Courbet paraphrased from Millet's Winnower. If Courbet intended to undercut the pastoral myth, he might as well have meant to contrast the traditional (Poussin) with the contemporary (Millet), and a similar contrast, one between medieval Ornans and its present appearance, seems to be evoked in the Minneapolis painting. Gail Garrison, a graduate candidate at The Johns Hopkins University, has kindly pointed out to me that Courbet was on his way to paint a Château when he came across the two stonebreakers. Courbet reported to Francis Wey in a letter of 26 November, 1849: “As I was driving in our carriage on the way to the Château at St. Denis near Maisières, to paint a landscape, I stopped to watch two men breaking stones on the road, . . .”; see Mack, op. cit., p. 69.
  32. Silvestre, op. cit., reprinted in Courthion, op. cit., I, 29.
  33. Courthion, op. cit., II, 51-52.
  34. Gordon Wright, France in Modern Times, 1760 to the Present (Chicago, 1960), pp. 281-282, 285-286. For a detailed discussion of the revised attitudes of early nineteenth-century French historians to the middle ages see Stanley Mellon, The Political Uses of History, A Study of Historians in the French Restoration (Stanford, California, 1958).
  35. Alfred Robaut, L'Oeuvre de Corot (Paris, 1905), II, 176 (no. 478). It is worth noting that Corot, who retouched this painting in 1867, has the original version photographed in 1853. Courbet was keen on photographing his own pictures as early as 1855 (see Mack, op. cit., p. 136). I wonder if the two men ever discussed what, at that date, must have been a rather unusual practice. Coincidentally, the two paintings are very similar in dimensions.
  36. The Vieux Chateau in the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris can serve as an example. For Robert's interest in ruins see Hubert Burda, Die Ruine in den Bildern Hubert Roberts (Munich, 1967).
  37. See André Joubin, Catalogue de Peintres et Sculptures exposées dans les galeries du Musée Fabre de la ville de Montpellier (Paris, 1926), p. 64 (cat. no. 204). For Courbet's interest in seventeenth-century landscapes see Courthion, op. cit., I, 84, 234.
  38. See above, note 31.
  39. Now in the Musée in Carcassonne. See Étienne Moreau-Nelaton, Daubigny raconté par lui-m'me et ses amis (Paris, 1925), fig. 31. Fig. 115 in this publication reproduces Daubigny's drawing of Les Andeleys et le Château Gaillard.
  40. For example, “. . . Hubert Robert did not scruple to show, in a view of Roman buildings, a clothesline hanging from the house of Marcus Aurelius,” observes Mario Praz, Mnemosyne, The Parallel between Literature and the Visual Arts (Princeton, 1970), p. 148.
  41. For a view of Courbet's landscapes that disagree with mine see T. J. Clark, Image of the People, Gustave Courbet and the 1848 Revolution (London, 1973), pp. 132-3.
  42. Werner Hofmann, Arts in the Nineteenth Century, trans. Brian Battershaw (London, 1961), p. 17. I am aware that Courbet first intended to show on his easel in The Studio a different picture, The Miller, his son, and the donkey, but feel that the artist's final decision deserves our appreciation as the best expression of Courbet's artistic position that he was capable of inventing in 1855.
  43. Joséphin Péladan in L'Artiste (1884), reprinted in Courthion, op. cit., II, 276. Writing this Péladan refers to, among other pictures, the Château d'Ornans.
  44. Émile Zola, Mes Haines (Paris, 1866), reprinted in Courthion, op. cit., II, 240.
Referenced Works of Art
  1. Gustave Courbet. French, 1819-1877. The Chateau d'Ornans. Oil on canvas, 32 1/8” x 46”. The John R. Van Derlip and William Hood Dunwoody Funds, 72.68.
  2. Gustave Courbet. The Burial at Ornans. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre, Paris, Inv. RF 325.
  3. Detail of fig. 2.
  4. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Les ruines du Chateau de Pierrefonds. Oil on canvas. Cincinnati Art Museum. Gift of Emilie L. Heine, 1940.965.
  5. Aelbert Cuyp. Les Ruines du Chateau de Merwerde. Oil on canvas. Musée Fabre, Montpellier, France. (Photo: Claude O'Sughrue).
  6. Gustave Courbet. The Studio of the Painter. Oil on canvas. Musée de Louvre, Paris, Inv. RF 2257.
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Source: Charles F. Stuckey, "Gustave Courbet's 'Chateau d'Ornans,'" <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 60 (1971-1973): 26-37.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009