Lot 430
  • 430

GUSTAVE COURBET | Portrait d'Urbain Cuenot

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Courbet, Gustave
  • Portrait d'Urbain Cuenot
  • Signed Courbet (lower left)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 37 1/8 by 29 5/8 in.
  • 94.3 by 75.2 cm


Sale: Paris, December 9, 1881, lot 14
Alfred Roll, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
Mary Cassatt, Paris & Philadelphia
Pennsylvania Academy of Arts, Philadelphia (a gift from the above in 1912 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, April 24, 2003, lot 32)
Acquired at the above sale 


Paris, Salon de 1848, 1848, no. 1016
Paris, Rond-Point de l'Alma, Champs-Elysées, Exposition des oeuvres de G. Courbet, 1867, no. 71
Paris, École des Beaux-Arts, Exposition des oeuvres de G. Courbet, 1882, no. 156
Paris, École nationale des Beaux-Arts, Le Portrait du siècle, Paris, no. 32 (titled Portrait de M. Quenot, Maire d'Orléans)
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Loan Exhibition of the Works of Gustave Courbet, 1919, no. 2
Philadelphia, Commercial Museum, Festival of France, 1960, n.n.
Tokyo, Keio Department Store & traveling, Millet and his Barbizon Contemporaries, 1985, no. 8


Le Hir, Journal des amateurs, 1881, mentioned p. 183
Georges Riat, Gustave Courbetpeintre, Paris, 1906, mentioned p. 98
"Gustave Courbet," in Franche-Comté, Monts Jura & Haute-Alsace, Revue regionale mensuelle, Besançon, December 1927, illustrated p. 248
Bulletin des Amis de Gustave Courbet, 1972, no. 48, illustrated p. 7
Robert Fernier, La Vie et l'oeuvre de Gustave Courbet, Catalogue raisonné, Lausanne & Paris, vol. I, Paris, 1977, no. 85, illustrated pp. 50-51
Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, ed., Letters of Gustave Courbet, Chicago, 1992, illustrated pp. 69-71


Please contact the Impressionist & Modern Art department directly for a condition report of this lot.
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.

Catalogue Note

Male portraiture has been one of the most enduring genres of painting in the canon of Western art history, a storied tradition into which Courbet inserts himself with this regal portrait of his lifelong friend and loyal supporter, Urbain Cuenot. Almost life-sized, Cuenot's likeness fills the canvas in a three-quarter position, his face locked in a stoic and statesmanlike expression that belies his provincial status. The composition and mood of the portrait are evocative of the work of such Dutch Old Masters as Rembrandt and Franz Hals, two artists whom Courbet held in great esteem (see fig. 1). In August of 1846, he wrote of a desire to travel to Holland to "study their old masters." In this portrait of Cuenot, Courbet's manipulation of light and shadow and his handling of brushstroke are illustrative of the deep influence this trip had on his own technique. The sitter of the portrait, like Courbet, spent much of his life in Ornans and was featured ubiquitously in Courbet's early oeuvre, such as the pensive listener in Une après-dinée à Ornans (see fig. 2). Courbet painted a smaller version of Cuenot in 1847, which served as the prototype for the larger and more detailed present work. Despite the inscription on the name plate and the painting's title upon its accession to the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy in 1912, there is no evidence that Cuenot was the mayor of Ornans. However, he was the director of the Choral Society in Ornans, where he impressed Courbet with his musical proficiency.

Courbet submitted his Portrait d'Urbain Cuenot to the Salon of 1847, where it was refused. In a letter to his family he wrote: "My friends were delighted with Urbain's portrait... Nevertheless, I doubt very much that it will be received at the exhibition for that particular painting is entirely beyond the jurors' ideas" (Petra ten-Doesschate Chu, op. cit., letter 47-1). The Salon jury finally did accept the portrait in 1848; however, Courbet painted out Cuenot's hat before the exhibition. One may speculate that Courbet made this change at the insistence of Cuenot, a well-traveled dilettante, who may have found the hat made him appear too provincial. However, an obvious alternate explanation is that Courbet altered the painting hoping this change would result in jury acceptance upon its second submission. When the portrait was cleaned at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1943, the hat was revealed. 

Mary Cassatt was a great connoisseur of Courbet's paintings and greatly admired his work. During trips to Paris, she encouraged the New York collector, Louisine Havemeyer to attend exhibitions of Courbet's works. With the Havemeyer bequest in 1929, The Metropolitan Museum of Art became the recipient of one of the most extensive collections of Courbets in the world. Nearly two decades earlier, the Pennsylvania Academy became the beneficiary of an important gift when Mary Cassatt gave them the present work in 1912.