Born in Ornans, Courbet moved to Paris in 1841 to study at the School of Law where his cousin Oudot was a professor. After moving into the bohemian Latin Quarter and abandoning his studies, Courbet devoted himself to painting. “To the horror of Mr. Oudot, who, in his role as professor, believed that one cannot learn anything without a teacher, Courbet refused to enter an atelier,” (Courbet in Perspective, Ten-Doesschate Chu). Having studied art at both the seminary in Ornans and the high school in Besançon, Courbet eschewed formal training, and instead frequented museums where he copied the paintings of great masters. At the Louvre, “he passed whole days in front of their works, looking, comparing, thinking, trying, ‘by reasoning,’ to understand their technique. When he did not understand it, he copied the part that puzzled him, and he copied it over and over again until he had penetrated the secret of the execution,” (ibid.). Courbet found success when his self-portrait, Courbet with a Black Dog, was accepted by the Salon in 1844. As a leader of the Realism movement he became recognized for his scenes of ordinary life, which included peasants and workers, featuring people from his native Ornans. Among his best-known works are Burial at Ornans and The Stone Breakers; his seascapes made a significant impact on the impressionists.
Courbet’s 1858 portrait “Madame Frederic Breyer”
Our letter discusses his 1854 painting The Wheat Sifters (Les Cribleuses de Blé), exhibited at the Salon in 1855. After the 1861 exhibition of the Society of Friends of the Art of Nantes, the work was purchased by the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes. It is not clear to which painting entitled Snow Hunting Courbet might be referring. Courbet, himself a hunter, created more than 100 works depicting hunters pursuing their quarry, often in a wintery countryside. The portrait mentioned in our letter might be his “Madame Frederic Breyer (Fanny Helene Van Bruyssel) which was displayed in Antwerp in the summer of 1858. It now hangs in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Written from Brussels’ Grand Lion Blanc Hotel and docketed “April 1858” in an unknown hand.
In fine condition.