Lot 321
  • 321

Gustave Courbet

60,000 - 80,000 GBP
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  • Gustave Courbet
  • La source de la Loue
  • signed G. Courbet lower right
  • oil on canvas, unframed 
  • 46 by 55.5cm., 18 by 21¾in.


M. Meillerat, St. Etienne, the great grand uncle of the present owner; thence by descent


This condition report has been provided by Hamish Dewar, Hamish Dewar Ltd. Fine Art Conservation, 14 Masons Yard, Duke Street, St James's, London SW1Y 6BU. Structural Condition The canvas is unlined and is still able to provide a secure and stable structural support. The turnover and tacking edges are inevitably rather frayed and weak and consequently the canvas is rather uneven on the turnover edges. It is obviously very good to see the canvas in its original unlined state and I would be confident that lining would not be required for the foreseeable future. It would be advisable, however, to strengthen the turnover and tacking edges with a thin strip-lining to ensure that the canvas is even and stable in the long-term without having to resort to fully lining. Paint Surface The paint surface has a very discoloured varnish layer and cleaning should transform the overall appearance. No retouchings are visible under ultra-violet light. Summary The painting therefore appears to be in very good condition with considerable potential for improvement as a result of cleaning, restoration and revarnishing.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1864, Jean-Jacques Fernier suggests that the present work is the study for the painting of the same title in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig.1).

Courbet's paintings of the source of the Loue, painted around 1864, form the culmination in his oeuvre of his fascination with his native landscape around Ornans, and epitomise the radical Realist style he pioneered.

Courbet was first and foremost drawn to the formation's materiality, but it also had rich associations for him. On one level, the source of the Loue had a long history in local lore as a symbol of the independence of Franche-Comté, which well suited Courbet's independent, revolutionary temperament; while on another level it could not be a stronger metaphor for creation and the origins of life that pervade Courbet's work and which find their apogee in paintings such as L'Origine du monde.

The very compositional conception of the work is radically new. Departing from picturesque and classical tradition, Courbet does not contextualise the source of the river (in fact a cave in a tall cliff in a verdant valley), but rather focuses just on the mouth of the cave from which the waters gush. Perspective is sacrificed in favour of an all-subsuming intensity, as Courbet confronts the viewer with a wall of materiality, juxtaposed with the terrifying yet irresistible lure of the infinite blackness of the cave.

With the exception of the version in the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., in which a lone fisherman stands precariously on a breakwater jutting into the stream, Courbet's views of the source of the Loue are devoid of human presence, thus renouncing all sense of narrative too. Subject and technique merge into one, the striated rock surface and bubbling waters articulated by the thick impastos applied with a palette knife.

FIG. 1, Gustave Courbet, La Source de la Loue, 1864, oil on canvas, 99.7 by 142.2cm., H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York