92
92
Gustave Courbet
FRENCH
NU COUCHÉ
Estimate
600,000800,000
LOT SOLD. 725,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
92
Gustave Courbet
FRENCH
NU COUCHÉ
Estimate
600,000800,000
LOT SOLD. 725,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

19th Century European Art

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New York

Gustave Courbet
1819 - 1877
FRENCH
NU COUCHÉ
signed G. Courbet. (lower left)
oil on canvas
18 by 25 3/4 in.
45.7 by 65.4 cm
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We would like to thank Ms. Sarah Faunce for kindly confirming the authenticity of this lot.  This work will be included in Ms. Faunce's forthcoming critical catalogue of the artist. 

Provenance

Private Collection, Switzerland

Literature

Possibly, Hélène Toussaint, Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), exh. cat, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1977, p. 186, in the discussion of no. 94; Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1978, p. 226, in the discussion of no. 144

Catalogue Note

Nu Couché is a new addition to Courbet’s series of paintings devoted to the female nude, a theme that was at the forefront of his creative output in the 1860s.  Previously unrecorded, this painting is a third version of two known works dated 1866 (see: Robert Fernier, La vie et l’oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, Lausanne and Paris, 1977, vol. II, p. 10, no. 534 (Oskar Reinhart Collection, Winterthur) and no. 536 (Mesdag Museum, The Hague)).  The recumbent nude in our painting first appeared as Psyche in Courbet’s 1864 rejected Salon submission, Venus in jealous pursuit of Psyche (fig. 1).  In 1866, Courbet returned to this subject in a smaller, more compact composition (fig. 2), a fortunate choice for a variant as it is all that remains to remind us of the appearance of Courbet’s controversial 1864 Salon entry , which was destroyed in Berlin during World War II.  Clearly, Courbet chose the same model for both our reclining nude and for his 1866 Psyche; the facial features are identical – large almond shaped eyes, a long nose and thin lips.  However, he dramatically altered the position of her head to rest on its side; one may speculate that he may have been experimenting with Psyche's pose for the 1866 painting as it would not be inconceivable that he would be interested in also showing Psyche subconsciously recoiling from Venus’s advances.  Courbet’s popular 1866 Salon entry, Woman with a Parrot (fig. 3), also corresponds to our painting;  the concept of a sensual woman, reclining on crumpled white drapery was obviously a winning formula for Courbet, as he repeated it several times in the 1860s. 

It was not unusual for Courbet to make replicas of existing paintings as demonstrated by the four known versions of his 1866 Portrait of Jo, La Belle Irlandaise.  The reasons for multiple or duplicate versions of paintings simply resulted from supply-and-demand, and in the 1860s, market forces dictated Courbet’s willingness to paint replicas, especially depictions of the female nude. The Paris Salons were seeing a proliferation of this subject matter; two paintings that readily come to mind are Alexandre Cabanel’s Birth of Venus, which was purchased by the State in 1863, and Paul Baudry’s The Pearl and the Wave, also submitted to the 1863 Salon and now in the Prado.  At this time, there was clearly a serious demand for images of sensual, naked women, and Courbet's paintings satisfied this popular interest in both his choice of Salon subjects and in his private commissions. Excerpts from a letter referring to the collector-stockbroker, Lepel-Cointet confirm Courbet’s willingness to repeat exact compositions or comparable themes. Courbet wrote to the Marquis de Chennevières on May 12, 1866 about the sale of the Woman with a Parrot to Lepel-Cointet, and offered to paint “an exact copy” of the painting, or “similar pictures that are as attractive as that one.” (Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Letters of Gustave Courbet, Chicago, 1992, p. 280, letter 66-10).  In some instances, critical discussion of Courbet’s controversial works served only to further fuel this demand.  Courbet’s Venus and Psyche drew the attention of the well-known writer and critic Charles-Augustin Saint-Beuve. The work had been rejected by the jury of the 1864 Salon on grounds of immorality, Courbet’s mythological title considered to provide but thin disguise to what conservative critics saw as the depiction of lesbian lovers.  Saint-Beuve’s vivid description of the work, however, caught the eye of Turkish collector Khalil Bey (owner of l’Origine du Monde) who promptly requested that Courbet make him an exact copy.  As it turned out, Courbet painted him a different version on a similar theme – The Sleepers (Collection, Petit Palais, Paris), (Toussaint, London edition, p. 165).

Nu couché directly relates to the Winterthur and Mesdag versions; all three paintings have similar dimensions, with variations only in the choice of background (the Mesdag nude reclines in an interior while our composition and the Winterthur version show her set in a landscape). Courbet’s model is voluptuous and sensual, not only in her recumbent pose, but also in how her form is defined by the rich handling of the paint surface. Courbet’s brushwork transforms pigment into a build-up of soft, creamy pink feminine flesh tones, which contrast with the rough, dry texture of the green foliage, clearly identifiable in the lower right of the composition and touching the model’s legs.

Please note this work has been requested for Courbet: Mapping Realism, an exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art, Boston College from September 1-December 8, 2013.

19th Century European Art

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New York