Lot 2
  • 2

Gustave Courbet

100,000 - 150,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Gustave Courbet
  • La sieste
  • signed G. Courbet (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 14 3/4 by 18 1/4 in.
  • 37.5 by 46.5 cm


Sale: Paris,  January 17, 1879, lot 15
Jos Hessel, Paris
Bernheim-Jeune, Paris (no. 21.117)
Bertel O. Steen, Oslo
Private Collection, Switzerland
Sale: Christie's, London, March 29, 1988, lot 106, illustrated
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, April 20, 2005, lot 55, illustrated
Acquired at the above sale


Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, November 1948, no. 4
Ornans, Musée Gustave Courbet, Courbet. Le retour au Pâys, June 24 - October 15, 2006,  no. 24
Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand-Palais; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Montpellier, Musée Fabre, Gustave Courbet, October 13, 2007 - September 28, 2008, no. 4
Geneva, Fondation pour l'écrit du Salon International du Livre et de la Presse, Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) sur les sentiers de l'exil, 2012, no. 6


Robert Fernier, La vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, Lausanne and Paris, 1978, vol. I, p. 14, no. 24, illustrated p. 15
Pierre Courthion, L'Opera completa di Courbet, 1985, p. 72, no. 22, illustrated
Pierre Courthion, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Courbet, Paris, 1987, p. 72, no. 22, illustrated

Catalogue Note

Many of Courbet’s earliest paintings depict self-portraits.  Painted between 1840 and 1848, they form a series in which he assumed multiple disguises and dramatic postures, casting himself in a variety of different roles.   His range was diverse, as in one composition he was the dashing lover embracing his female companion (RF 46), and then a wounded man resting against a tree (RF 51).  More theatrically, he appeared as a Mephistophelian gnome playing a game of draughts (RF 43) and as a sculptor with chisel dressed as a troubadour (RF 48).  His most mysterious and enigmatic work was the close-up, Le désespéré (RF 20 and fig. 1). 

Our painting appears early in the series and most likely was painted in 1841-2.  Courbet had arrived in Paris in 1839 and is known to have returned to Ornans on at least two occasions in 1840 and 1841.  Therefore, the setting of La sieste might be a hillside on the Seine, as later depicted in his 1856 Les Demoiselles des bords de la Seine (RF 203), or a landscape in his native Franche-Comté.  Courbet repeats the recumbent pose in two other early works (RF 21 and 34), and in a small pencil drawing (RF, vol. II, p. 271, no. 53).

Like other self-portraits from the 1840s, Courbet is handsome and stylish, here dressed in a white shirt and trousers, yellow vest and leather poulaines. The lush, green grass of the countryside provides the perfect backdrop to accentuate his white costume and physique.   As recently noted, “With its narrow cut, the suit [in our painting] shows off his slender, youthful silhouette, of which he was so proud” (Gustave Courbet, exh. cat., 2007, p. 99).  Fashion was important to the young Courbet; he frequently mentioned the purchase of new outfits in letters to his family (see: Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, Letters of Gustave Courbet, Chicago, 1992, p. 30, letter 40-1; p. 41, letter 42-3; p. 44, letter 42-5)

A recurring theme which Courbet will develop throughout his career, suggested for the first time in La sieste, is the subject of slumber or sleep.  It will appear later in such famous works as Le hamac (RF 53) and most scandalously in Le sommeil of 1866 (RF 532).