Description

    GUSTAVE COURBET (French 1819-1877)
    Portrait Of Urbain Cuenot, circa 1847
    Oil on canvas
    37-1/4 x 29-1/2 inches (94.6 x 74.9 cm)
    Signed at lower left: Courbet

    Provenance:
    Sale, Paris, December 9,1881, no. 14 to the painter, Alfred Roll;
    Mary Cassatt, Paris and Philadelphia until 1912;
    Given to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia;
    Sotheby's, New York, 19th Century Paintings, 24 April, 2003, Lot 32;
    Private collection (Dallas, Texas)

    Exhibited:
    Paris, Salon of 1848, no. 1016
    Paris, Rond-Point de l'Alma, Champs-Elysees, Exposition des oeuvres de M.G. Courbet, 1867, no.71
    Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Exposition des Oeuvres de G. Courbet, 1882, no.156
    Paris, Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Le Portrait du siecle (Second exhibition), Paris, no. 32 (with the title Portrait of M. Quenot, Maire d'Orleans)
    New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Loan Exhibition of the works of Gustave Courbet, 1919, no.2;
    Philadelphia, Commercial Museum, Festival of France, January 1960;
    Tokyo, Keio Department Store, Millet and his Barbizon Contemporaries, April 5-24, 1985, no.8 This exhibition later traveled to: The Hanshin Department Store, Ltd., May 2-14, 1985 and Yamanashi Prefectural Museum of Art, August 4- September 8, 1985

    Literature:
    Le Hir, Journal des Amateurs, 1881, p. 183
    G. Riat, Gustave Courbet, peintre, Paris, 1906, p.98
    Franche-Comte-Monts-Jura, Number dedicated to Courbet, Besancon, December, 1927, p. 248 (illustrated)
    Bulletin des Amis de Gustave Courbet, 1972, no.48 (illustrated p. 7)
    R. Fernier, La Vie ed l'Oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, catalogue raisonne, Lausanne-Paris, 1977, vol. 1, p.50-51, no. 85 (illustrated)
    P. ten-Doesschate Chu, ed., Letters of Gustave Courbet, Chicago, 1992, pp.69-71, (illustrated fig. 20)

    An intimate childhood friend and lifelong supporter of the artist, Urbain Cuenot (1820-1867), is depicted here in a larger-than-life-size portrait. Cuenot is presented in muted dress, wearing a brown jacket with velvet trim, a dash of a white shirt visible just below his full beard, and a large wide-brimmed hat. Courbet challenged the current academic styles of painting through the use of monumental unidealized portraiture. In this likeness of his close friend, for example, Courbet showed Cuenot's massive form to suggest class and authority, but contradicts this narrative by including the working-class, provincial wide-brimmed hat, which Courbet himself often wore. Cuenot is thus portrayed by Courbet in the manner the artist liked to portray himself: as a proud, distinguished individual who was fully invested in his provincial heritage and its connections with working the land. Courbet and Cuenot were both from rural Ornans, in the Franche-Comté near the Swiss border, where they grew up together hunting in the forests and exploring the rugged natural terrain along the River Loue which figured prominently in Courbet's paintings. Interestingly, however, neither Courbet nor Cuenot, who were both fiercely Republican in their political sympathies, was from a working-class background. Courbet's parents were well-to-do large-scale farmers, and Cuenot was a man of independent means who spent most of his life as a dilettante and, for a period, served in a mayoral capacity in Ornans. Nonetheless, their deep-rooted connection with the Franche-Comté, and their families' livelihood there, separated both of them from the urban elite of Paris. The large-brimmed hat was a symbol of their independence, socialist sympathies, and to a certain degree, their celebration of being free-thinking "outsiders."

    In 1846, Courbet produced another portrait of Cuenot on a smaller-scale, which is now in the Musée Courbet, Ornans. Interestingly, the study depicts Cuenot with analogous features but, notably, without the hat. When Courbet submitted the present portrait to the Paris Salon in 1847, it was rejected. In a letter he wrote to his family shortly afterwards, dated January 1, 1847, Courbet opined, "That particular painting is entirely beyond the jurors' ideas" (quoted in P. ten-Doesschate Chu, p. 69, letter 47-1). Which "ideas" Courbet was referring to are not entirely clear, since we have no surviving record of the original appearance of the painting. However, it seems that Courbet may have been alluding to the presence of the large hat. Although we do not know for certain whether the hat was the reason behind the rejection, we do know that by the time Courbet had resubmitted the work to the Salon of 1848, when it was accepted and exhibited, he had entirely overpainted the hat. Only when the portrait was cleaned in 1943 by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was the large hat revealed-a cleaning which ninety-seven years later doubtless uncovered quite literally the subversive subtext of the offending passage in Courbet's original portrait.

    Within Courbet's oeuvre this portrait occupies an important place. It embodies the enormous regard Courbet had for the great 17th-century Dutch portraitists Rembrandt and Frans Hals, whose work Courbet discovered on an 1846 trip to Amsterdam. In this work and other portraits he produced directly after his trip to the Netherlands, Courbet's technique reflects the chiaroscuro he admired in Rembrandt, and the free brushwork he discovered in Frans Hals. The American painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was tremendously inspired by Gustave Courbet's realist aesthetic. She traveled frequently to France during the 1880's, where she was introduced to Courbet's oeuvre and eventually acquired this portrait for her personal collection. In 1912, she donated it to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.


    Estimate: $250,000 - $350,000.

    Condition Report*:

    Canvas has been relined with a water-based glue. The painting has a thick, old varnish, minor strengthening to the upper right and craquelure.

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    May, 2007
    25th Friday
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